REVIEW: Dark Forest
– By MovieCritic NextDoor
The woods really get a bad reputation in a lot of horror movies. I live in the woods for the first seventeen years of my life and I never once saw a monster or a homicidal maniac. Even the animals aren’t all that dangerous as long as you leave them alone, though we did have badgers around and sometimes no matter how careful you are they’ll still try to claw your face off. Of course any animal can be dangerous under the right (or wrong) circumstances, which is my best guess at what the underlying message of Dark Forest is meant to be. Really it’s more your standard horror movie public service announcement about how going camping is taking your life in your hands and only a fool ever willingly sleeps in a place with no cell service.
There are really two different movies here, first of all, though at least they’re both about the dangers of camping so I suppose that’s something. On one hand we have sisters Michelle (Veronica Ternopolski) and Francine (Jalin Desloges), who look nothing alike. Jolene (Weronika Sokalska), however, looks quite a bit like Francine, though I really hope they aren’t related. They have a camping trip planned with Emily (Laurel McArthur) who really, really needs to get away from her awful, controlling boyfriend Peter (Dennis Scullard).
Then we have Henry (Graham Silver) and Sally (Alyssa Wyspianski), who are taking their friends Kim (Genevieve DeGraves) and Franky (Jesse Laing) camping in hopes of getting them together. At one point a third movie almost starts up, though thankfully that one turns out to be more of a sacrificial movie to help demonstrate how truly dangerous it is among the trees. I can’t tell you how relieved I was that that movie didn’t last, because it had the worst dialogue. “Your earlobes taste like chamomile,” really?
The only thing the two main films have in common, apart from a brief scene where they come within an inch of colliding, is the villain of the piece. Peter, you see, isn’t merely an overbearing and probably abusive boyfriend — he’s also more than happy to kill anyone who annoys him or just happens to be handy, and since the woods are pretty crowded this time of year they make an excellent hunting ground for him and his reluctant accomplice Roy (Matthew Stefanson).
Despite having the flimsiest of motives for much of his killing spree, Peter’s probably the most interesting character. Yes, it’s pretty strange to realize that the slasher gets the most character development. Sally almost becomes interesting, then she stops doing things. I mean, completely. She loses an entire day to a scene change and in that time moves about three feet, still vainly trying to get a signal on her phone. Still, at least she does more than Henry. Michelle is also on the verge of becoming a real character, something of a big sister to the whole crew, but also never quite gets there.
Several gallons of fake blood later there’s almost no one left standing on screen, and quite possibly not many people left awake in the audience. The acting is dubious in places and there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere. When the dialogue is bad it’s wretched (see ‘chamomile’, above) but there are a few scenes when the teasing among the four female friends does click, and I kept hoping for more of that.
Scullard as Peter is an excellent psychopath, however, creating an unsettling mix of homicidal and bizarrely playful. I was glad to see the women of the cast getting to stand up and fight, and there is some retro charm to it in the form of several scenes that pay homage to 80’s slasher flicks, but that didn’t quite make up for the rest of the movie. Still, it’s clear they all had fun with it and sometimes that’s all you can do, whether you’re stuck in the woods or in a doubtful horror movie.