Those familiar with my blog know that I’m a huge fan of French Horror movies, specifically a subgenre known as New French Extremity. New French Extremity refers to a collection of films from French directors who gained prominence around the turn of the 21st Century. I find the timing of this movement astounding; in addition to kicking off the millennium, I believe this subgenre is a product of (and a reaction to) the stress of life in post-9/11 society. There can be no doubt that 9/11 changed just about every facet of modern culture, and its effect on the emotional and psychological landscapes of Horror cinema can not be understated–but that’s a blog for another day.
Deep in the Woods (Promenons-nous dans les bois) is a moody and atmospheric chiller directed by Lionel Delplanque. It was filmed in 1999 and released in 2000, obviously before 9/11, and it’s not necessarily a movie regarded as “Extreme”. Still, this film struck me as a precursor to my beloved subgenre; I detected tones and elements that would later be expounded in classics like High Tension and Sheitan (among others).
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: A troupe of actors are hired to perform for a young boy’s birthday at a remote mansion. The party goes well, except for some unusual behavior by the youngster and his grandfather, but then things take a turn for the worse when the police come by to warn everyone that a murderer is roaming loose in the area. The actors decide the safest thing to do is to stay in the mansion, but soon the bodies start piling up. Could the killer be the old man, the young boy, or one of the actors themselves?
From the opening moments and throughout, Deep in the Woods is a movie that has us peeking through keyholes, stealing clandestine and intimate moments like an opportunistic criminal. The setting is nothing short of perfect for a disturbing, slow-burn murder-mystery: A stately yet isolated mansion located (you guessed it) deep in the woods. The moon outside is full and absolutely spectacular. Within, frozen taxidermies of birds and critters seem to retain a spark of sentience, bearing witness to the Gothic-tinged happenings of the household like mechanical cameras. This is a place where secrets dwell, where reality is a carefully constructed illusion–yet true intensions boil dangerously close to the surface, threatening to shatter deceptive masks.
Aspects that struck me as precursors to New French Extremity include: The amoral, wanton sexuality resulting in non-conventional couplings; the dysfunctional family steeped in shame and frustration; the dislocation of suave urbanites to a rural setting that, while peaceful and serene, harbors more terror than the darkest city streets; The overwhelming sensation that your host has something sinister in store for you, and; Other things I dare not mention for fear of giving something juicy away.
Like some of literatures most enduring dramas and tragedies, Deep in the Woods features a play within a play (okay, a play within a movie), in this case, the well known tale of Little Red Riding Hood. But this isn’t you’re Disney variety interpretation, it’s the hard core no nonsense European version. The Wolf is a murderous and formidable adversary capable of easily dispatching little Miss Red–and this story takes some truly gruesome turns. In this exact respect, Deep in the Woods is a subversion of modern fairy-tale notions of love and family, obsession and death. The murderer reveals himself, literally, in wolves’ clothing, before devouring some self-absorbed selfish sheep.
Deep in the Woods is filled with mystery, and I don’t just mean the identity of the man or woman behind the snarling mask. For example: A truly bizarre connection develops between the baron-esque Axel Fersen (François Berléand) and Arian poster-boy Fredrick/Cedrick (Vincent Lecoeur), strange not only for the awkward and inappropriate (not to mention thinly veiled) sexual innuendo and an unexplainable magnetism between them, but the fact that these men seem exceptionally familiar for two people with absolutely nothing in common. It’s an unsettling and intriguing kinship to say the least. As far as the “Actors” go, we’re given absolute zero in terms of character development and relevant backstory, which means the their long-term motivations often remain vexingly opaque. There seems to be an inordinate amount of deception being perpetrated in somewhat meager group of 5. Who are these people at the end of the day when the production is over and everyone’s been paid? These are the mysteries within the mystery.
While the apathetic “Actors” are all rather unlikable by design, young birthday-boy Nicholas (Thibault Truffert) is perhaps the most captivating and unsettling character of the film. Deaf and mute, Truffert is nonetheless able to emote volumes, showing a depth of skill rare for a performer his age. Nicholas is a riddle (within the mysteries within the mystery), exceedingly unnerving. His antics at the dinner table will not be easily forgotten; his haunting stare burns into memory. Up until the very conclusion, Nicholas is both Angel and Demon–not an antagonist or anti-hero exactly, more like an anti-protagonist.
Deep in the Woods is a great movie and I’m glad I found it, but it’s not perfect. The film begins and end in flashback in what is supposed to be an “All is Illuminated” movement. Unfortunately, plot holes make for an incomplete puzzle, a final image still difficult to decipher. But Deep in the Woods looks so fucking good and plays out with such taut intensity that I don’t necessarily mind the fuzzy finale. Still, I can’t help but feel like Delplanque could have pulled things together more neatly with some additional script work, so I’m slightly disappointed. The overall experience, however, has many more positives than negatives. It’s a blast actually!
Deep in the Wood will please fans of New French Extremity, but don’t expect it to make your Top 10 list. Still, it’s a solid and visually captivating film that’s an excellent example of Horror rising to the level of High Art. If, on the other hand, New French Extremity is too intense for you, Deep in the Woods shows subtlety and restraint that will become almost nonexistent in the French genre films that follow, so… check it out!
3.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Lionel Delplanque|
|Produced by||Marc Missonnier
|Written by||Lionel Delplanque
|Music by||Jerome Coullet|
|Editing by||Pomme Zhed|
|Distributed by||Pathé Distribution|