On September 3rd 2010, three walkers disappeared on Dartmoor, and now the footage from their abundance of cameras and recording devices has been edited together, though as any footage which would resemble an interesting plot is absent, perhaps it would have been preferable had the whole thing remained lost. As it stands, this “found footage” horror film written and directed by Richard Parry is utterly devoid of a single original idea.
Suffering nightmares following the recent death of her father, Kerry’s American boyfriend Brody suggests they take a camping trip to an area he visited ten years previously. On the way they pick up Kerry’s cousin Leo, whom she has not seen in some time, and to whom Brody takes an immediate dislike, taking exception to his guitar, and the animosity is mutual.
On their way to Dartmoor, the trio stop off for some plot exposition at a handy pub, where the locals tell them the story of the Huntsman, who would track sinners and mark them before hanging them as witches, as illustrated in a picture than bears an inexplicable identicalness to the Black Rider from Fellowship of the Ring. Undeterred by local yokels, they press on, Brody obsessively cataloguing every moment on camcorder in the manner that only those destined to be victims in contrived found footage movies are driven to do.
Inevitably, friction arises, lies are uncovered, darkness falls, strange noises are heard, camping gear is damaged, and people run around the woods alternately shouting for help or trying to mask their breathing as they are hunted. There is no effort to make any of the characters or situations interesting or address any of the elements that normally differentiate a finished film from random unedited footage such as progressing a plot or linking any elements together in the manner known as resolution.
While the cast aren’t objectionable, as in so many “found footages,” that may be because they’re so dull, bickering like unsupervised teenagers. As Kerry and Leo, Anna Skellern and Andrew Hawley are saddled with the majority of the bad behaviour as Scoot McNairy, so amiable in Monsters, decides to take a night hike away from the campsite for a large portion of the film.
Technically, the film is superlative, gnarled trees overwhelmed by moss, rocks and dead bracken scattered across the fresh grass, the infrared filter when used in daylight creating a beautiful texture of distant illuminated clouds across the wide landscape and almost resembling the work of Ansel Adams, but the technical expertise is wasted on the plodding trip whose scripting is so mechanical as to include a scene where the different camera settings are tested only to set up the inevitable usage of each of them later in the film
The spectre that hangs over all “found footage” films is the success of The Blair Witch Project, which A Night in the Woods so desperately wishes to capture it physically plays out the scenes; the locals telling the spooky story, the bickering trio, the determined cameraman, the symbol of the ancient evil, the noises in the night, the markers found hanging from trees, but where that film broke new ground and was played with intensity, here it is with indifference. At one point Kerry says to Brody that it’s pretty tragic to tape your whole life. Even worse is to waste it watching this.
A Night in the Woods is currently on limited cinema release and simultaneous DVD release