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Moriarty’s DVD Blog! Lucky McKee’s THE WOODS Review!

Way back in June of 2002, I was the first person at AICN to write about the work of Lucky McKee. A full six months before MAY killed at BNAT, I wrote about the promise of that film and of McKee as a filmmaker. I was very interested to see he would do next, and when THE WOODS started to come together, I crossed my fingers, hoping for something special. And now, four years and change later, Sony Home Entertainment has issued an indifferent direct-to-DVD release of the film. Not terribly promising, is it? How did this MGM/UA film that shot back in 2004 take this long to come out? Beats the shit out of me, but I can tell you this: it wasn’t because the film deserved it. THE WOODS is not perfect; it has a little trouble sticking the landing. But it is stylish and atmospheric and seems to me to be further proof that McKee takes this genre seriously. He’s not trying to make one more crappy Asian knockoff with a bunch of dead wet kids, and he’s not making films full of cheap sick thrills. Instead, character is absolutely first and foremost with him, and creating a sense of time and place. In this case, the time is 1965, and the place is an all-girls boarding school where Heather Fasulo (Agnes Bruckner) finds herself trapped when her father (Bruce Campbell) and step-mother (Emma Campbell... no relation) find themselves fed up with her behavior. At first, the films plays out like the 2003 film EVIL, by Mikael Halfstrom, a story about a genuinely dangerous kid trying to fit into a boarding school and being pushed to the point where they can’t push any further. Bruckner (so memorable in BLUE CAR) gets the tone of the film just right, which is no surprise. Say what you will about McKee, but this is a guy who can direct women in particular. Bruckner may be the star, but all the girls in the film do strong, tonally consistent work. This movie doesn’t play out like a crazy nightmare on the same level as SUSPIRIA, but that’s what it’s aiming to be, and that sort of ambition in a genre that is rapidly becoming rehashes of remakes of reimaiginations. should be rewarded, not fucked around by the system.

THE WOODS is an original, and for some people, that’ll make it a tough sit. There’s none of that studio-regulated one-scare-every-ten-minutes overthinking. It’s just a confident little film that know what it’s trying to do and, for the most part, does it. See, the head of the school, played with quiet relish by Patricia Clarkson, has big plans for Heather, and for many of the girls who also go to the school. This is a film with a slooooooow burn, and when it pays off, it’s not exactly worth the effort, but how much of that is the result of studio interference, and how much is the result of the script by David Ross and the direction by McKee? I have no idea, and unfortunately, this is a barebones DVD edition of the film with no contributions from the filmmaker. When the film works, it’s one of the most confidently stylized horror films in recent memory. McKee shot the film in scope, and it’s quite striking. This is the best looking film that John R. Leonetti has shot in his career as a slick action guy, and McKee takes advantage of basically shooting the whole film in a few key locations. He milks that boarding school for all it’s worth, making it creepy and comic and erotically charged all at once. Oh, yeah... I said “erotically charged,” and I meant it. If Cronenberg’s big theme in his early films was man’s relationship with his body, then McKee seems particularly interested in the relationships between women. And in particular, Lucky loves lesbians. It would be easy for a lesser filmmaker to get all smarmy with that, even as a subtext, but there’s a sensitivity to his filmmaking that makes you realize that he’s not including lesbians in his film in order to titillate. There’s something else that he’s trying to work out, and in both of his films so far (although far more explicitly in MAY), McKee simply makes alternative sexual lifestyles normal. He doesn’t make them an issue; simply texture for how his characters live. It’s a nice transfer, but an absolute bare bones disc. I guess I shouldn’t complain. At last I finally saw the film. Here’s hoping McKee has none of these problems on RED, the Ketchum adaptation that he’s about to start shooting, and that it doesn’t take two full years until we see it. Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

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