Witches in the Woods (2019)
Toronto After Dark Film Festival kicked off last night and I had the pleasure of seeing the opening night film by Director Jordan Barker. The supernatural horror, Witches in the Woods, oddly enough doesn’t involve much in terms of witch imagery but provides a thoughtful mystery tale which will leave you chilled to the bone.
A group of seven students go on a Winter road trip to the remote woods of Stoughton Valley for a snowboarding adventure (and to relax in the hot tub with beer). As they approach their destination, they learn of its deadly history involving 12 witch trials and soon they become stranded (the original name of the film) in the woods. The friends soon realize they must not only fight the cold conditions but also a sinister supernatural spirit trying to knock them off one by one.
The film kicks off with a similar feel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre but in a wintery setting, following a group of excited friends embarking on a road trip. Usual cliches ensue like a closed highway and misleading short cuts causing them to become lost. It takes a while for the scares to kick in but when they do it’s worth the wait and the tension between friends is executed well.
The young cast deserves applause and ultimately amount to the film’s success. A large portion of the 90 minutes takes place in a broken-down truck so they have a big job on their hands in terms of keeping audiences engaged. The character development is well done and though not all are given a lot of screen time it’s admirable that we still feel for them. Love triangles, past traumas and betrayals add a fun camp factor that invests you in what happens next. I tend to gravitate towards the strong, bitchy characters in horror so naturally, Humberly González who plays Bree was a favourite of mine and added elements of comic relief with her witty one-liners. Bad boy Derek played by Craig Arnold also has a standout performance and I had a chuckle at his Linda Blair reference. The toxic relationships in the group keep things lively in the dead of winter setting.
I’m not typically drawn to winter horror films but Witches in the Woods is up there among my favs. The film, which was shot not far from my hometown just outside of Sudbury Ontario, includes beautiful wilderness shots captured by drones. The scenic visuals help capture the chilling atmosphere and feeling of isolation. The gore effects were done in moderation and used unexpectedly.
Witches in the Woods is a film that will keep you questioning real from the supernatural. As things get dire, it is up to interpretation what is true and what is caused by the paranoia of others. Watching the attractive cast scramble with this, relationship drama and bitter natural elements make for an icy recipe for disaster.