Two Thrillers from Maple Pictures
The Backwoods (May 9/08)
It's ultimately difficult to recall a more disappointing horror effort than The Backwoods, as the film's terrifically promising first act slowly-but-surely gives way to an atmosphere of tedium and superfluousness - with the increasingly aimless sensibilities of Jon Sagala and Koldo Serra's screenplay surely playing a significant role in the story's inevitable downfall. This is despite a seemingly foolproof premise that gets things off to a fantastic start, as two couples - Paul (Gary Oldman) and Isabel (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), and Norman (Paddy Considine) and Lucy (Virginie Ledoyen) - travel into the woods for a weekend at an isolated cabin and find themselves subsequently pursued by blood-thirsty locals after encountering (and rescuing) a feral little girl. Though leisurely paced to an almost egregious extent, The Backwoods does boast an undeniably suspenseful opening half hour that benefits substantially from Oldman's surprisingly subtle performance (and while Considine is also quite good, Ledoyen's tenuous grasp on the English language couldn't possibly be more apparent). The relentless bickering between the couples becomes increasingly tough to take as the movie progresses, however, and there's little doubt that the lackluster script - which is rife with eye-rollingly inauthentic instances of dialogue and character motivations - slowly-but-surely drains the tension from the proceedings (that the central villain has been infused with a soft-spoken and decidedly far-from-sinister personality certainly doesn't help matters). By the time the impossible-to-swallow and flat-out ridiculous conclusion rolls around, it's clear that The Backwoods has established itself as a missed opportunity of almost epic proportions - ensuring that even the most forgiving viewer will be forced to throw their arms up in exasperation.
It's certainly surprising to note that Water's Edge features a screenplay by up-and-coming filmmaker Craig Brewer, as the movie doesn't possess even an ounce of the electricity and authenticity that Brewer infused his directorial efforts with (ie Hustle & Flow). Water's Edge instead comes off as a distinctly trashy (yet admittedly entertaining) piece of work that's often elevated by Nathan Fillion's expectedly engaging performance. Fillion plays Robert, a struggling writer who moves into a desolate cabin with his wife (Chandra West's Molly) following the death of their daughter - though it's not long before the two find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy involving murder, blackmail, and buried secrets. Brewer effectively ensures that Robert's actions initially remain surprisingly plausible - ie his decision to shoot a sleazy cop - and the screenwriter likewise does a nice job of toying with the viewer's perception of the various characters (though he does tip his hand just a little too early in terms of painting one figure as a femme fatale type). But there comes a point at which Brewer essentially throws in everything and the proverbial kitchen sink, deftly transforming Water's Edge into a run-of-the-mill, entirely ridiculous straight-to-video thriller (Harvey Kahn's bland direction doesn't do the proceedings any favors, either). That being said, Water's Edge is never boring exactly and - provided one doesn't dwell on the various plot holes - the film is ultimately quite a bit better than most others of this ilk.