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Moriarty’s DVD Blog! Lucky McKee’s THE WOODS Review!

Way back in June of 2002, I was the first person at AICN to write about the work of Lucky McKee. A full six months before MAY killed at BNAT, I wrote about the promise of that film and of McKee as a filmmaker. I was very interested to see he would do next, and when THE WOODS started to come together, I crossed my fingers, hoping for something special. And now, four years and change later, Sony Home Entertainment has issued an indifferent direct-to-DVD release of the film. Not terribly promising, is it? How did this MGM/UA film that shot back in 2004 take this long to come out? Beats the shit out of me, but I can tell you this: it wasn’t because the film deserved it. THE WOODS is not perfect; it has a little trouble sticking the landing. But it is stylish and atmospheric and seems to me to be further proof that McKee takes this genre seriously. He’s not trying to make one more crappy Asian knockoff with a bunch of dead wet kids, and he’s not making films full of cheap sick thrills. Instead, character is absolutely first and foremost with him, and creating a sense of time and place. In this case, the time is 1965, and the place is an all-girls boarding school where Heather Fasulo (Agnes Bruckner) finds herself trapped when her father (Bruce Campbell) and step-mother (Emma Campbell... no relation) find themselves fed up with her behavior. At first, the films plays out like the 2003 film EVIL, by Mikael Halfstrom, a story about a genuinely dangerous kid trying to fit into a boarding school and being pushed to the point where they can’t push any further. Bruckner (so memorable in BLUE CAR) gets the tone of the film just right, which is no surprise. Say what you will about McKee, but this is a guy who can direct women in particular. Bruckner may be the star, but all the girls in the film do strong, tonally consistent work. This movie doesn’t play out like a crazy nightmare on the same level as SUSPIRIA, but that’s what it’s aiming to be, and that sort of ambition in a genre that is rapidly becoming rehashes of remakes of reimaiginations. should be rewarded, not fucked around by the system.

THE WOODS is an original, and for some people, that’ll make it a tough sit. There’s none of that studio-regulated one-scare-every-ten-minutes overthinking. It’s just a confident little film that know what it’s trying to do and, for the most part, does it. See, the head of the school, played with quiet relish by Patricia Clarkson, has big plans for Heather, and for many of the girls who also go to the school. This is a film with a slooooooow burn, and when it pays off, it’s not exactly worth the effort, but how much of that is the result of studio interference, and how much is the result of the script by David Ross and the direction by McKee? I have no idea, and unfortunately, this is a barebones DVD edition of the film with no contributions from the filmmaker. When the film works, it’s one of the most confidently stylized horror films in recent memory. McKee shot the film in scope, and it’s quite striking. This is the best looking film that John R. Leonetti has shot in his career as a slick action guy, and McKee takes advantage of basically shooting the whole film in a few key locations. He milks that boarding school for all it’s worth, making it creepy and comic and erotically charged all at once. Oh, yeah... I said “erotically charged,” and I meant it. If Cronenberg’s big theme in his early films was man’s relationship with his body, then McKee seems particularly interested in the relationships between women. And in particular, Lucky loves lesbians. It would be easy for a lesser filmmaker to get all smarmy with that, even as a subtext, but there’s a sensitivity to his filmmaking that makes you realize that he’s not including lesbians in his film in order to titillate. There’s something else that he’s trying to work out, and in both of his films so far (although far more explicitly in MAY), McKee simply makes alternative sexual lifestyles normal. He doesn’t make them an issue; simply texture for how his characters live. It’s a nice transfer, but an absolute bare bones disc. I guess I shouldn’t complain. At last I finally saw the film. Here’s hoping McKee has none of these problems on RED, the Ketchum adaptation that he’s about to start shooting, and that it doesn’t take two full years until we see it. Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 12, 2006, 7:37 a.m. CST

    The Woods is really quite ridiculous

    by Sheeld

    But it does have style. Did not convince me of any 'special skills' McKee might have tho. Would have bombed in theaters anyways.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 8:02 a.m. CST

    What, no Amazon link?

    by midgetlover

    This might actually be a sincere endorsement.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 8:09 a.m. CST

    Deja vu

    by RodneyOz

    I had this really weird feeling reading this, as if it had already been posted, I'd scanned over it, and then it was gone when I returned for a closer reading. Did this in fact go up at some point temporarily, or do I just need better drugs? Anyway, after May and the Masters of Horror thing, pleased to see another Lucky picture out there, even if its fate belies his name.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 8:12 a.m. CST

    Commentary track...

    by Brendon

    ...a commentary was recorded for this disc, and some features prepared and then ditched. This is either an attempt to use a cheaper disc (DVD-5 rather than DVD-9 he says, wondering what the hell he means) or to try and force a double dip on fans. Evil

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 8:15 a.m. CST

    The Skulls 3: The Woods

    by El Cimarron

    I dont know, but after the horrible Skulls, the whole boarding school genre is destroyed for me

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 8:17 a.m. CST

    "Lucky loves lesbians"

    by El Cimarron

    Shoot... I love them too... and with the proper resources, I'd be filming them too!

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 9:39 a.m. CST

    all girl...boarding uniforms

    by CTU Mole


  • Nov. 12, 2006, 9:53 a.m. CST

    Looks crap but.............

    by samuraidino

    Bruce campbells chin is in it for a few minutes so its a must buy

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 9:55 a.m. CST

    a pretty good flick

    by bottleimp

    I read about this on IMDB a long time ago, and was disappointed that it only got direct-to-video treatment (though I guess it's lucky that it ever got released at all). Definitely not a movie for people with short attention spans, or for those whose conception of horror movies begins and ends with gore-fests like "Hostel" or loud-music-cue-jump-out-and-scare-you stuff like "The Grudge." But an interesting story, good cameo role by Bruce Campbell (especially since much of the movie nods its head to the Evil Dead films), and surprisingly good special effects.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 10:15 a.m. CST

    Is this the film that caused M. Night to change

    by chrth

    the title to The Village?

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 11:23 a.m. CST

    I liked a lot of "May"...

    by DanielKurland

    Everything up until it becomes a generic slasher film towards the end. The atmosphere at the beginning is great, all the awkward stuff with the doll is great, Bettis's acting is great, and the short film with "My Baby Does the Hanky Panky" is great. I enjoyed it a lot, especially thinking back on it, but I just wish the last third of it was given a bit more thought, although it does have a wonderful ending shot.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 11:26 a.m. CST

    How the fuck is a Patricia Clarkson movie not released?

    by mortsleam

    Everything the woman does is absolutely top-notch A+ quality. She does not pick bad projects. This is yet another one. I think this was killed because of the unfortunate battle with M. Knight Shyamalan over the title of The Village/The Woods (in retrospect obviously "The Village" was the better title for that one). Too bad, Lucky McGee is making some great movies that deserve a wider audience.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 1:38 p.m. CST

    seen it, it was o.k.

    by Gwai Lo

    not quite as good as "may", not quite as bad as "sick girl". it's like a low rent, direct to dvd version of suspiria. bruce campbell's performance is very understated so don't get your hopes up. and i don't remember any nudity or even any uber hot schoolgirls so the whole all-girl boarding school aspect is kind of wasted.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 3:49 p.m. CST

    No scares, horrible acting...

    by -guyinthebackrow

    zero reason to own, buy, or watch this crappy title.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 10:46 p.m. CST

    I don't think MAY ever becomes a generic slasher

    by hktelemacher

    The ending worked twofold for me. Spoilers a-comin'. First, because it was difficult to see some fairly likeable characters (Sisto, Faris, etc.) get murdered undeserved, and second - because even beyond that you're still rooting for her to do it because she's finally coming out of her shell. Sure, she's Tom Cruise batshit crazy - but Bettis is so loveable in it that you can't help but feel all warm and fuzzy when she starts taking a scalpel to her friends. "Got any cold ones in there?" somebody asks her about her ice chest full of body parts. "Yes, I do," she chimes back. It's the fucked up horror version of the geek getting the girl. And that last scen was spectacular. Bettis was also quite funny in McKee's SICK GIRL episode, which did make me think of Cronenberg but not in the obvious FLY way. And Moriarty is dead on about THE WOODS -- underwhelmingly worthwhile. A bigger, labrynthine, set piece climax would have helped but Bruce Campbell vomiting up gooey black tree bark is sublime.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 10:48 p.m. CST

    It wasn't bad...

    by Nodwick

    ...but not outstanding. I'd rate it with "good" horror TV (better episodes of "Supernatural" or the 80's "Twilight Zone"). It won't please fans of gore, and the ending was kind of predictable, but I think with some tweaks to the story it could have been a cult film. And yeah, Bruce Campbell was in "not Ash" mode, so don't expect The Chin we all know and love to work his magic.

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 12:16 a.m. CST

    Lucky Runs Dry

    by LizardMan

    I had heard about this movie years ago. And was all the more excited cause of the people attached to it. But Lucky's style (so effective in MAY) hurt this movie at almost every turn. The film's got a creepy story, great performances, and one terrific scene where an untucked shirt spells certain doom. But McKee's over-anxious visual tricks managed to water down the plot's effective tension. I felt like I was taken out of the film repeatedly because McKee was just trying too damn hard. It's worth a renter, and better than most films of its ilk. But I hope next time, McKee trusts the story more.

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 12:55 a.m. CST

    i actually saw this in theaters

    by s0nicdeathmonkey

    and for some reason everyone recruited except me was black. this was in a white/korean neighborhood, but for some reason it felt like 40-60% of the audience was black. the entire time the row in front of me did nothing but talk at the screen. it was like a bad sketch parodying what we've been trained to expect black people to do in movies. it was ridiculous. also, i was one of the few people to really feel enthusiastic about the film. i adored it and found it tremendously tension filled.

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 12:59 a.m. CST

    also, whomever said this is the same film as SUSPIRIA

    by s0nicdeathmonkey

    hit the nail on the head

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 8:47 a.m. CST

    Lesbians and Bruce Campbell. I'm There.


    Plot is superfluous at that point.

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 10:05 a.m. CST

    Completely overrated film by everyone

    by Lovecraftfan

    I respect what it was trying to do, but it's really not that special at all. Also the ending is stupid and incoherent how anyone can straight face amazes me.

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 1:25 p.m. CST

    good rental

    by cocolopez

    Rented this the first week it came out and it was quite entertaining. I'd buy the DVD used... Liked it better than May- and Sick Girl wasn't anything special...

  • Nov. 13, 2006, 4:20 p.m. CST

    i rented this b!sh a month back or so...

    by maceodkat

    really found myself moved by mori's orginal review way back when for MAY, and that move really caught me by surprise and i've been eagerly awaiting this release for a couple of reasons. #1 horror movies = teh shizznizzle #2 bruce campbell = teh shizznit #3 lucky mcgee = teh shiz(?) i'm the type of guy that will watch a directors entire body of work, and have really enjoying Lucky's debut film, I couldnt wait to see this one. When I saw this dvd pop up at my local video shop, i scooped it up and rushed home to watch it. Now, every thing Mo said up top was on the money, dark, brooding, whodunnit twist of who exactly the bad guys are, and that aspect was good. the problem is that the movie is all over the place, and the middle drags like noones business. it looked great, and the ending was very solid, bruce + axe = winnAr. but its not all there. There are tons of worse movies that got love on the big screen (grudge 2 i'm looking at you), so there really is not excuse that this flick couldnt pop up at a few movie houses. 'specially in LA, where Mo & myself currently reside. there are tons o' arthouse type venues where this movie would have been gobbled up. bottom line, listen to Mo, rent the movie. it wont hurt the wallet, and your sure to enjoy the story.