BABA YAGA: TERROR OF THE DARK FOREST (2020)
Directed by Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy, Nathalia Hencker
Written by Natalya Dubovaya, Ivan Kapitonov, Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy
Starring Oleg Chugunov, Glafira Golubeva, Artyom Zhigulin, Svetlana Ustinova, Aleksey Rozin, Maryana Spivak, Marta Timofeeva, Filippov Daniil, Evgeniya Yevstigneyeva, Igor Khripunov, Yuliya Aleksandrova
If I had kids and I wanted to indoctrinate them into horror, I think BABA YAGA: TERROR OF THE DARK FOREST would be a really good intro to my favorite genre for them. It’s got no nudity, no swears. But still has some very effective scares and a simple, but fun plot.
While BABA YAGA: TERROR OF THE DARK FOREST is steeped in old Russian lore, it’s all explained in the opening credits. The main power of the Baba Yaga is that she has the power to make those who know her victims forget about them. And that factor is used to the full extent here as a young boy named Egor (Oleg Chugunov) struggles after his mother dies and his father remarries and brings a new child into the home. Though he resents Anya, the baby, Egor is concerned for her safety as he seems to be the only one who notices that the new nanny Tatiana (Svetlana Ustinova) is a witch intending on stealing the baby. When the baby disappears and none of his family seems to notice, Egor enlists the help of his friends to take on the witch and get his step-sister back.
While never getting too intense or graphic, BABA YAGA: TERROR OF THE DARK FOREST still manages to deliver a good amount of effective scares reminiscent of what one might see in THE CONJURING or INSIDIOUS films. The Baba Yaga enjoys toying with Egor, which makes for some intense scenes of the witch attacking him while invisible and when he enters her lair wrapped in red ropes in the middle of the forest. These scenes are filmed with a very capable hand which straddles the line between kiddie fare and more adult filmmaking. Reminiscent of films like GOONIES, THE MONSTER SQUAD, THE NEVER-ENDING STORY, and EXPLORERS, where it’s up to the kids to save the day, you really feel these kids are in danger and there is depth put into each one of their characters motivating them to help one another and take on the witch.
The effects are equally well done as the look of the Baba Yaga, either as a half-raven creature or a skeleton wrapped in bright red twine, is original and fantastic. For a low budget film, BABA YAGA really delivers on the effects.
Filmed in Russian, yet dubbed in English, the voice acting in BABA YAGA: TERROR OF THE DARK FOREST, is not the best, but the little actors starring in the roles and their adult parents all feel very natural. Star Chugunov is likable and scampy in the lead as Egor. He and his friend Dasha (played by Glafira Golubeva) make for a great pairing to take on the monster. Sure there are some pretty intense moments, but it’s nothing that is going to scar a child viewer. The image of the Baba Yaga is nightmarish, but the film feels like a capably-made fairy tale adapted with care and thought of the younger viewer.