A young band heads to the woods in order to focus on writing new songs. Hoping to emerge with new music that will score them their big break, they instead find themselves in the middle of a nightmare beyond comprehension.
“Don’t Go In The Woods” is the directorial debut of Vincent D’Onofrio, an actor known for his roles in “Full Metal Jacket” (1987), “Men in Black” (1997), and a “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (2001-2011) and “The Cell” (2000). Going with his normal brand recognition, D’Onofrio delivers a strange piece here. Known for out of the ordinary characters, and strong creative vision, he shows potential as a director. He creates an immediate tension by involving some teen musicians in a private retreat in the woods mentioned in the title.
As the band is driving toward their destination, a private campground where they plan to write their first hit record, the leader of the pack (Nick, played by Matt Sbeglia) rids the group of all drugs, phones, and cameras. Creative integrity is the goal, but it helps set the group up to be isolated from the outside world.
After a strange first few minutes involving chopped shoes, a lost manager, some band interstitials, and a nice gash on one member’s foot, the pacing and tone of the film become apparent. An eerie atmosphere pervades the story, and whatever fate is waiting to meet these characters is apparently not a happy one.
After a strange campfire story, the group notices some strange happenings, which turn out to be some very creepy visuals, and introduce some new characters to the story. As a group of girls converge on the songwriting session, Nick is noticeably upset, and escapes into his music alone.
D’Onofrio sets a pattern to the film, essentially making a horror-musical. Between dialogue sequences, the band likes to play its most recent pieces. It is a strange style to get used to, but could work if used correctly. With decent cinematography, and surprisingly good young talent, these segues and dialogue sequences stay relatively fun, if not awkward. During the second act, these musical interludes turn into legitimate musical sequences (an ode to “Repo! The Genetic Opera” (2008) or “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) perhaps?). These young actors really do hold up well, perhaps due to D’Onofrio’s direction (special attention to the lead played by Sbeglia, who is really refreshing in his role).
Throughout the film, the band members see flashes of things in the woods. Are they spirits, animals, monsters, or other people? They never see them at the same time, so no one can tell what they are. Of course between sightings there are plenty of strange conversations between the teen boys and their new female friends, including but not limited to: talk of the Donner party, John Fogerty, Clint Eastwood, and legal precedents from the U.S. Supreme Court.
By the time the third act hits, the movie starts to lose its momentum. The musical sequences outweigh the horrific, atmospheric ones by at least two to one. It negates much of what the first act set up, and begins to weigh down the film itself.
When some violence and scares finally begin to occur, they are done in a minimalistic style. This helps to hide budgetary constraints, and keeps the mysterious mood set earlier in the movie. One by one, the kids are being killed, right in front of one another. A man in a black suit seems to be hunting them as if they were animals. Of course, as dead bodies pile up, Nick continues to write songs as he is “inspired” by the tragedy around him.
Vincent D’Onofrio essentially created the first “hipster” horror film. The alternative rock and folk music, emphasis on musicians as characters, campfire scenes, natural setting, and general character stylings really brand this film with the hipster movement, much as “Easy Rider” (1969) was joined with the original hippie movement. This movie sets itself apart, but perhaps tries too hard. It is hardly accessible, but this writer doubts it was ever meant to be an audience favorite. To that end, it seems to succeed. Otherwise it really seems to be a strange piece that will most likely survive in obscurity.
Don’t Go In The Woods (2010)