A group of technology-dependent teenagers goes to offline camp and faces a deadly danger lurking in the woods.
On hearing about movies set around camps in the woods, featuring nubile, hormone crazed teens, and psychotic killers with supernatural strength, the average horror fan will immediately think of one particular franchise and a certain hockey-masked nut job. Any film that uses these same tropes is inevitably going to find itself up against Jason Voorhees and his seemingly never-ending exploits every Friday The 13th; one of the latest to have a try is Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight, a Polish effort from writer director Bartosz M. Kowalski.
The movie’s opening prologue serves as a taster for what the director has in store for us; it’s actually beautifully shot, the sedate, fluid camera following a rural postman on his rounds to deliver mail to isolated houses in the densely forested Polish countryside. One such house will prove to be the last he’ll ever make a delivery to; upon hearing strange groaning noises emanating from the outside door to the basement, he unwisely decides to investigate and try to help the unfortunate soul who sounds to be trapped down there. Inside the house we see a woman apparently tending to someone – or something – locked away under the floor. Of course, we seasoned viewers know all too well how this is all going to turn out; obviously it’s not much of a spoiler at this point to say that postie should have minded his own business….
One post-credits jump to thirty years later, and we meet our group of soon to be psycho vict – er, teen campers, on their way to the Adrenaline survival and tracking camp. Run by a group of amusingly unhinged, swivel-eyed instructors, the aim is to – rather conveniently – ensure there’s no possible contact with the outside world by doing away with all phones, tablets or anything connected to the internet. By now the movie’s sly, self-aware tone has made itself very evident – although that isn’t to say it doesn’t actually take the time to make a serious point about how many of us are way too dependent on electronic devices at the expense of the natural world around us.
The movie quickly establishes its cast of teens; the jock, the self-harmer, the overweight nerd, the sex-crazed blonde – but this is done very knowingly with a meta wink. The nerd (Julek) even delivers a monologue deconstructing the cliched horror tropes that we’re about to witness, such as the dumb characters deciding to split up into small groups, Scooby-Doo style, before investigating the sinister cellar; or the fact that any teens promiscuous enough to even think about – gasp! – having sex are definitely going to be the first to get skewered. Julek and his girl pal Zosia quickly mark themselves out as our two leads; and they actually make a likeable pair of protagonists.
One of the first things the group encounter in the dense forest, is the half-eaten carcass of a deer (portrayed, like much of the movie’s gore, with pretty slick practical effects); the camp leader ominously points out that it looks to be the handiwork of a large carnivore. You know, just to set the mood for the unnerved teens. Meanwhile, the woman we saw briefly earlier tending to the creatures in her cellar has a nasty accident, which just happens to open the door to freedom.
Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight makes no secret of the fact that it’s taking inspiration from a number of unsurprising places, most notably of course from the Friday The 13th series. It even directly references An American Werewolf In London, and is aiming in the same general direction of wry humour, gore and frights, even if it doesn’t really go all in for the latter of those. It does draw from other sources too, including the Hatchet films, Creepshow and even – oddly enough – Fargo.
It’s a very self-aware movie which embraces its own magpie-like nature; the cast are all solid, particularly the two young leads, and it scores points for the lush cinematography and blend of unobtrusive digital effects and impressive practical ones. There’s very little here you won’t have seen in one form or another from many other films, but when it’s all done as competently as it is here, with a nice line in self-deprecating meta humour it doesn’t really matter. This is well worth a hundred minutes of a horror fan’s time.