Synopsis: A high-school cheerleader comes face-to-face with the town urban legend: The Hangman, a deformed zealot said to lynch male trespassers and keep the women as “brides”.
Stars: Jeremy Sande, Isabella Alberti, Tahj Vaughans, Michael Anthony Bagozz
Director: Thomas Smith
Running Length: 70 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: Without indie cinema, we wouldn’t have many of the great directors we have today and we certainly wouldn’t be where we are with horror films without landmark grassroots efforts like George Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead and John Carpenter’s low-budget Halloween from 1978. A number of these films might have lacked in budget but made up for it with an ingenuity that the latest studio product couldn’t match no matter how much money was thrown at it. That’s why I’m always interested in those teeny-tiny horror films that might look rough and ragged in their marketing as it’s often a sign they’ve wisely spent their bucks on more important things. On the other hand, my spidey-senses ping high whenever the poster for the movie looks like it cost more than the entire production.
Maybe it was the post-Thanksgiving haze I was in, but I was clearly off my game when I fired up Backwoods, a no-budget slasher film with a bland title befitting the overall effect of watching the movie. Despite a semi-promising beginning and narrative structure that uses Memento-ish flashbacks to help us piece together an internal mystery on top of typical slice and dice tropes, the movie caves in on itself via a black hole of lousy performances and bad filmmaking. That’s too bad, too, because while I’m no fan of plagiarism there’s flashes of ingenuity in the script from husband-and-wife duo Thomas Smith and Erin Lilley that someone out to recycle into something better.
Wasting no time (the film is barely an hour long), Backwoods starts with high-school cheerleader Molly (Kelly Osborne look-alike Isabella Alberti) trapped in a trunk, the victim of a kidnapping by an assailant presumed to be a local legend come to life. Through a series of flashbacks and subsequent flash forwards, we get an idea of what led Molly and several of her friends to be in their current predicament running for their lives in the woods and how the real evil may not be exactly what we originally thought. Mixed in it all is a post-game house party for the football players and their friends in the middle of nowhere occupied by a flock of amateur actors desperately trying to look like high schoolers while also attempting to not look into the camera by staring straight into it. There’s also some backstory on the lore of The Hangman who has snatched poor Molly, but the poor guy is given short shrift in the development of plot but ample time obviously was devoted on the make-up work. When we get a look at the rude dude up close, the effect is decent but only when it stays in the shadows. After too much light shines on it you’ll get state fair haunted house vibes.
Also serving as the director, Smith stumbles with his own screenplay by keeping in some lame bits of dialogue that start out cringe-y and wind up feeling like bee stings when delivered without inflection (and sometimes proper amplification) by the weak cast. Oh the pain of watching two guys talking about hot chicks while drinking two cold brewskies in front of a bare lightbulb…and the point is…? Even co-screenwriter Lilley makes it a full family affair by playing Feral Woman (and trying to avoid the spotlight by being credited under the name, wait for it, Feral Woman) as a series of grunts and nasal huffs. Isabella Alberti (one of two Alberti girls in the film) is actually a rather plucky heroine, if only she weren’t deluged with such ding-dong dialogue and playing second fiddle to guts and gore which are rendered well, if too sparingly.
A proper ending takes a backseat in Backwoods and I actually rewound the screening link twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The movie basically just ends, showing that either the screenwriters deliberately wanted to make their finale obtuse or they didn’t know how to go out with a bang so they opted to just cut things off mid last gasp. Cheap production values that feel like a too-long student film and a school bus full of of terrible performances (i.e. most of the supporting players) bury this one deep…which is where Backwoods will end up in the annals of horror categories you browse on your streaming services. Extremely skippable and you’re advised to do so.