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Unfortunately, a bit of a confusing mess.
Nolene-Patricia Dougan | Ravara, Ireland | 03/27/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
While holidaying in the Basque region of Spain, two couples discover a child whose hands are severely misshapen. The child has been gravely mistreated, and, as a result, cannot communicate. The two couples reluctantly decide to rescue her and report her circumstances to the authorities. However, severe weather and the denseness of the forest surrounding their holiday home make it impossible for them to make a quick getaway. Soon, the local inhabitants become aware that the girl is missing, and they rightly suspect the holiday-makers of taking her. Suspicions and paranoia begin to fester, and it isn't long before violence erupts. The villagers demand the little girl's return, and her rescuers refuse to give her up. A deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues, making a return to normalcy impossible for everyone involved.
The premise for The Backwoods is an intriguing one. The idea of how quickly basic human instincts make situations spiral out of control, is nearly always used to good effect in movies. For any writer/director, this concept opens up a myriad of opportunities to shock, as well as to fascinate. This fact probably accounts for why this device is a much-overused set piece. Films of this genre, when well executed, are guaranteed, at the very least, cult-classic status (e.g., Deliverance and Straw Dogs). However, when poorly executed, the resultant films can resemble a confusing, farcical mess. Unfortunately, The Backwoods is an example of the latter.
The Backwoods starts off well, trying to develop the main characters, before violence eventually erupts. However, what we have learned of their character in the initial scenes gives us little insight as to why the characters react as they do to the situation they are dealt. For example, Oldman's character, Paul, is the only one of the four main characters who is thoroughly determined to save the girl. At no time does he falter, even when he could save his life by telling the villagers where the disfigured girl is. This character trait does not hold true, because, up to this point, his character has appeared arrogant and overbearing, with little or no regard for those around him. Having said this, the four leads all give solid, believable performances, and, for the most part, cover up, rather than expose, the inconsistencies in their characters' nature.
Apart from flaws in the development of central characters, this movie has other problems. First, the deformity that the little girl has seems too ludicrous to be believable. If you have ever seen Batman Returns, and you remember the misshapen hands that The Penguin had, you will get the idea. As a viewer, the fact that the little girl has "Penguin hands" makes it hard to take her plight seriously. And finally, the main reason why this movie is farcical rather than stimulating is the movie styles to which it chooses to pay homage. I can understand the stylish, 1970s-vibe it tries to recreate, and I can also appreciate the nods directed toward Peckinpah and Boorman. But, what I can't understand is why the writer and director chose to insert a Sergio Leone-style climactic scene. Up until the final scene, the movie has tried to be dark and thought-provoking. Up until the final moments it has tried to teach the audience something about the human psyche; it has failed miserably, but it has tried. And then, all of the sudden, ten minutes before the end, you have a man-on-man gunfight, reminiscent of a spaghetti western. This ultimate fight appears to be forced and is very much out of place. The only thing that links this final scene to what has preceded it, is the fact that the ultimate scene's outcome is as confusing and pointless as the rest of the movie.
In short, The Backwoods is a jumbled mess, which is full of inconsistencies in character, plot, and style. The only factor that rescues The Backwoods from being a complete disaster are the proficient performances of its lead actors. If you want to watch a film that explores basic human instincts, why not try Magnolia Pictures', The Signal. You will find that film a lot more entertaining and a lot less confusing than this shambolic piece of filmmaking.
Flawed but entertaining throughout
Sibelius | Palo Alto, CA USA | 07/14/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you enjoyed films like 'Deliverance (inbred hillbilly folk hunting down tourists)' and/or 'Straw Dogs (wimpy man tired of being pushed around finally learns to grow a pair and protects his woman)' then 'The Backwoods' is right up your alley in delivering a stylized 1970s-esque action thriller set in the Basque hills of Spain. Keep in mind that this film isn't meant to cater to the Euro art house cinema crowd. This flick is a slice of pure, B-grade genre kettlecorn that would actually fit in quite nicely as part of a Tarantino Grindhouse double feature.
Also of note - this disc has ZERO extras save for a handful of LionsGate trailers. The 5.1 mix is surprisingly robust. Video transfer quality gets a 7/10 from me. Definitely give this film a rental - at the very least!"
Don't Play In The Woods!!
Deidra Cox | Garrett, KY | 05/25/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I admit it. I'm a sucker for a Gary Oldman flick. Just show me his name on the screen and I'm there, ready and willing. Gary Oldman is the bomb. But more importantly, he takes chances and that's exactly what he did with this film.
THE BACKWOODS takes place in Northern Spain in 1978. Two couples are vacationing together, each in different stages of their marriage. The realism between Norman and Lucy is raw, there are moments I wanted to look away, the intimacy, the pain felt so real. The characters are fleshed out excellently before the "real" pain begins.
Norman and Paul go on a misguided hunting trip in the woods and stumble on a seemingly abandoned house with a horrible secret. Locked away inside is a feral child chained and in rags. The child has deformities and has suffered tremendously, judging by her reaction to the men.
Rather than leave her there to possible starve, since there wasn't any food in the shack, Paul decides to take her back with them. He reasons with Norman that they can feed her, clean her up and then take her to the police.
And perhaps Paul's plan would have worked, except for the group of violent Spanish heathens who show up on his doorstep, determined to take back possession of their property. When the inevitable clash occurs, ill-fated choices are made, sad attempts at redemption and the grudging respect between two enemies.
But even more surprising is the character development of Norman, the layers that strip away till the naked core is bloody and bruised.
THE BACKWOODS won't be everyone's cup of tea. Everything isn't nice and neatly wrapped up at the end. I have to admit, the ending was a bit shocking for me, something I didn't see coming. But the film delivers. The atmosphere, the moodiness, the beautiful scenery, meaty characters that you can relate to, all this makes THE BACKWOODS a superior film experience.
If you're wanting to veg out,rest your brain and not think, then this isn't your film. However if you want something to haunt your dreams and quite possibly your waking hours as well, THE BACKWOODS is the one. Come on, let's play in the woods."
Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine in So-so Spanish Thriller
Tsuyoshi | Kyoto, Japan | 08/16/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
""The Backwoods" (original title "Bosque de sombras") follow the story of two married couples holidaying in Spain and their nightmarish experiences. One couple is played by Gary Oldman and Aitana Sánchez-Gijón and the other by Paddy Considine and Virginie Ledoyen. I don't know why, but the time is set in the 1970s. Perhaps they wanted to call up the memories of two masterpieces made in the 70s: "Straw Dogs" and "Deliverance."
In fact, Paddy Considine's mild-mannered character Norman might remind us of Dustin Hoffmann's hero in the Sam Peckinpah classic. Two male characters Norman and Oldman's Paul, who has an assertive personality, travel to the "backwoods" in Spain with their wives for a summer holiday only to get involved with conflict with the locals after finding a little girl imprisoned in a shack.
If you look at the DVD jacket of the film, you will find the filmmakers are using the face and name of Gary Oldman to attract potential viewers. It is understandable. As you know, he is an excellent actor, whose charismatic performance alone is always worth the money you pay. But I must say that in "The Backwoods" the task of carrying the whole story to the end is not given to the character Oldman plays. You wish you could see more of his acting, which is not his best, it is certain, but surely his presence could have raised the tension of the film a little higher than it is.
In fact "The Backwoods" takes too much time to build up the tension it really needs. The film's pace gets faster in the second, but it never delivers the goods it promised at the beginning of the story. It tries to tell its story with a psychological depth, but female characters are bland, almost like ciphers, and as to the male ones the character development looks too sudden, which needs more insight.
"The Backwoods" is directed by Spanish-born Koldo Serra. Like many recent Spanish-made thrillers, the cinematography is very atmospheric. Actually, each scene is shot professionally; violence erupts at times and ugliness of human nature is shown, but "The Backwoods" does not really thrill or surprise us with raw energy or depth that this kind of film needs.
It is not that "The Backwoods" is awful. It is just that the film needs some distinctive style that sets that apart from others."