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RED WOODS (2021)

Directed by Nicholas Danko.
Written by Nicholas Danko, Ted Voron.
Starring Michael Barnett, Brian E. Stead, Jacquelynn Ware, Justin Rose, Jennifer Milligan, Michael Cruse, Stephanie Swift, Adam Cooley, Debrah Evans, Phil Henderson, Augustus Danko, Neil Baney, Robert J. Wood, Phoebe Costanza, Michael Patrick Trimm
Find out more about this film here!

RED WOODS is another found footage film, so I figure I’ll put this one to my found footage questionnaire to see how it holds up. I developed this questionnaire mainly to distinguish how authentic the found footage movie is as a means to get to the bottom of whether it’s worth checking out or not. Here goes…

What’s it about?
A group of youtubers venture into the heavily forested areas to explore houses that have been overcome by nature in the Appalachian Territory. A group sets out to meet another group of investigators who they lost contact with after they discovered houses decimated by age and disuse, and a few houses that have been burned down. Meanwhile, someone is following the group making their own movie with much more diabolical intent.

Are the actors successfully acting like they aren’t acting?
One of the biggest hiccups in RED WOODS is the acting. While most of the time, the interactions feel natural between members of the group, as the plot thickens and gets more complicated, a bit more of an acting stretch is required and some of the actors just can’t reach it. The leader Cross (played by Michael Barnett) has a huge emotional arc and while he capably communicates the paranoia, loss, fear, and rage, there are moments where he just isn’t convincing. This goes for most of the other cast as well, especially Jack (Jacquelynn Ware) who is the team’s medium and is given quite a lot of hokey mystic feelings dialog to mutter in times of stress . I actually blame the script for most of this. A lot of the twists and turns that occur in RED WOODS feels clunky and at times forced. There’s a pretty big leap where a childhood memory comes back to haunt Cross and his missing brother Adam. What felt like a throwaway detail actually becomes quite important to the overall tale. It’s an interesting decision, but definitely takes a lot of the spontaneity away from the story as it requires someone to plan about twenty steps ahead in order for a master plot to develop. I would have preferred that this be a random encounter with horror than an A-Team like plan coming together.

Does the footage found seem authentic and untouched by additional production (which means there is no omniscient editor making multiple edits between cameras or an invisible orchestra providing music)?
I initially had issue with the way the film utilized music during key scenes. But this music was composed of simple drumbeats that increased in speed to amp up tension. While this definitely takes me out of a film when outside orchestral and synth beats are used, these musical beats are worked into the story as the person stalking the group is actually making a movie from the footage he steals from each youtuber. So while he accumulates each camera, he adds the footage to his film, along with a drum that actually shows up in frame. This allows the film to cheat a little as the longer this footage plays out, the more it is the stalker’s produced movie utilizing outside editing equipment, musical cues, and multiple cuts between different cameras. I found this to be a very creative way to overcome some of the found footage genre’s more cumbersome hurdles.

Why don’t they just drop the camera and get the hell out of there?
The motivation to keep filming at first is to capture new and exciting things for the explorers YouTube channels. So of course, they want to capture everything. Later, when shit hits fanward, it’s more like everyone is running around in such a frantic state that they just forget they are still filming. These guys are used to filming everything they encounter, so it feels natural that they don’t drop the expensive equipment and bolt.

Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
There is a scene where Jack breaks down and someone consoles her that is as close to an up-nose confessional as it gets. For the most part, RED WOODS avoids a lot of the dumb cliches, choosing to use new equipment like drones and multiple cameras to come up with some interesting and downright scary scenes.

Does anything actually happen? Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
One of the main things I want to commend RED WOODS for is that it keeps the pace moving at a breathtaking clip and provides all kinds of thrills and scares all the way through. While found footage films are notorious for being cheaply made, some real effort was put into RED WOODS to orchestrate some creative and exciting sequences involving car crashes, a burning house, and all kinds of creepy settings from the overgrown natural environment to the maze-like buildings the group are exploring.

Does the film add anything to the subgenre and is it worth watching?
RED WOODS is not your typical found footage film. Sure, it’s on a low budget, but man, do the filmmakers go for the gold. I loved this film for its aspirations to shoot for the moon with multiple levels of tension, intrigue, emotional struggle, hardcore action, and gritty and grimy slasher tropes. Not all of them work and I think some of the revelations could have occurred a little smoother had the script been polished a bit more. But having seen plenty of found footage films, RED WOODS stands out as one that reaches for the stars and beyond. It’s got some scrapes and bumps, but if you’re a fan of the found footage genre, there is a lot to like with RED WOODS and enough to overlook the rough spots.

Check out the trailer here!!