MURDER IN THE WOODS (2017)
Starring Chelsea Rendon, José Julián, Jeanette Samano, Kade Wise, Jordan Diambrini, Catherine Toribio, Soledad St. Hilaire, Kurt Caceres, Rolando Molina, Max Chavarria, Yelyna De Leon and Danny Trejo.
Screenplay by Yelyna De Leon.
Directed by Luis Iga Garza.
Distributed by Rezinate Entertainment. 88 minutes. Not Rated.
Advance word about Murder in the Woods suggests that it is a spicy, unique take on the classic slasher film. However, honestly, other than the fact that it stars a mostly Latinx cast and they briefly namecheck such Mexican mythological creatures as La Llorona and El Cuco and touch slightly on bruja witchcraft, this is all pretty standard horror fare.
And if you don’t know who the killer is within the first twenty minutes or so, you just aren’t trying all that hard.
Which does not necessarily make it a bad film, just a very familiar, very formula one, with a little hint of spice. If you are looking for a movie about a mysterious killer hunting down a bunch of culturally diverse 20-somethings in a spooky, remote cabin, Murder in the Woods can be a lot of fun. And really, that is all it was ever aspiring to being.
Murder in the Woods is actually pretty tailor-made for this new post-pandemic, drive-in theater friendly world that Hollywood finds itself in. I’m not sure that this would have made a huge splash in the multiplexes – in fact, it has been on the film festival circuit for about two or three years with no apparent plans for wide release before this new world order. However, it feels so much like part of an old school drive-in horror triple feature that it is only natural that we are now being allowed to watch from a car.
One of the few positives of the shelter-in-place world is the resurgence of drive in theaters and the fact that a lot of movies which may have fallen through the cracks in the traditional theatrical system are getting the chance to spread their wings. Not all of them are good. In fact, some of them are bad. But it’s nice they get a chance to try to fly.
Interestingly, Murder in the Woods has its roots in A Better Life, a very good… and very different… film about undocumented immigration released in 2011. (Check out my interviews with A Better Life director Chris Weitz and Oscar-nominated star Demián Bichir elsewhere on the site.) Murder in the Woods screenwriter Yelyna De Leon had acted in a supporting role in the movie. She wrote this script for the actress who played her daughter in the film, Claudia Rendon. She also created characters for A Better Life cast members José Julián (the second lead of that film) and Rolando Molina.
While Murder in the Woods is not nearly as good as A Better Life (no big crime, most films aren’t), it is an enjoyable genre piece and lots of fun in its own “things that go bump in the night” way. Imagine Friday the 13th with more interesting characters, or The Blair Witch Project with a steady camera and a psycho killer, or Cabin Fever with a little Mexican-American flare, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re in for here.
Essentially, Chelsea Rendon, José Julián, Jeanette Samano, Kade Wise, Jordan Diambrini and Catherine Toribio play six friends who go up to a rustic cabin to party and hook up. They are Chelsea (Rendon), the flamboyant birthday girl, Gabe (Diambrini) her hunky boyfriend, Fernanda (Samano) her good girl cousin, Jesse (Julián) their quiet friend, Jule (Wise), the party monster friend and Celeste (Toribio) the hot loose girl who may be hitting on Chelsea’s man.
As they drink and pair off, noises start to happen outside, people start to disappear, and bodies start to pile up. Danny Trejo shows up periodically just to be Danny Trejo, and his craggy implacability is always welcome.
Like I said earlier, it is pretty obvious who the killer is long before the eventual “reveal,” but even if Murder in the Woods is far from high art, it’s a lot of fun.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2020 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 13, 2020.