It’s a staple of horror movies for a good reason. With the weather warming up, we’re all looking forward to getting away from the urban grind and venturing out to secluded cabins on quiet lakes. There’s almost too many horror movie about clueless city finding unspeakable terror at a ‘cabin in the woods’ to count. That’s not stopping indie horror studio DBS Films from platforming their latest release, Forest of Death. From writer and director Brendan Rudnicki, Forest of Death transplants four young people to, yes, a cabin in the woods where an unspeakable horror awaits.
Four friends rent a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. When they arrive they’re initially worried about the owners – a rough-around-the-edges hillbilly and his nephew. When they learn that the last renters – a couple around the same age – were found brutally murdered their suspicions are further raised. And stories about shapeshifters preying on locals only exacerbate their fears. Strange cries in the night and quick glances of familiar faces in the woods hint at greater dangers.
Forest of Death Does What It Does Simply and Effectively
Budget limits much of what Forest of Death does – and can do – as a horror movie about shapeshifters. Simply put, indie movies require filmmakers to get inventive with to bring their monsters to life. Writer and director Brendan Rudnicki kicks things off with an opening scene that’s surprisingly effective. Arguably, Rudnicki struggles to re-create the brief suspense and decent jump scare for the rest of the movie. Too much time is spent on the two couples enjoying the cabin – Rudnicki gives us not one, but two, montages of ‘good times’. This sort of movie doesn’t need that kind of diversion, and it doesn’t help that there’s little in the way of character development.
…Rudnicki’s solution to the micro-budget is to keep things ruthlessly simple.
Nonetheless, Rudnicki shows a lot of grit getting his vision – and co-writer Kellan Rudnicki – onto the screen. Specifically, Rudnicki’s solution to the micro-budget is to keep things ruthlessly simple. Forest of the Death isn’t re-inventing the wheel. And while it’s not fancy, it’s an effective piece of horror moviemaking. Rudnicki keeps his shapeshift off screen as much as possible and limits what we see when the movie necessitates the monster’s appearance. There’s not much in the way of surprises, but Forest of Death delivers what on expectations within what its budget allows.
Forest of Death Mostly Overcomes Gaps in Storytelling Logic
Where Forest of Death’s limitations most surface are the screenplay itself and the performances. While one can appreciate the mercenary approach to the material, there’s a consistent lack of logic in much of what the characters do or don’t do. No one seems nearly as upset as they should about the fact that a couple died in the same cabin a few months ago. After hearing stories about the wendigo and shapeshifters, characters inexplicably do the exact thing they shouldn’t be doing – wandering into the woods alone. It’s the kind of storytelling where the desired outcome necessitates what happens rather than a more organic approach to material.
While one can appreciate the mercenary approach to the material, there’s a consistent lack of logic in much of what the characters do or don’t do.
Don’t expect to find any familiar faces in Forest of Death. Like its barebones budget, the actors are unknowns with bit roles in small indie projects not unlike this movie. None of the performances are going to turn heads but they’re serviceable for the movie. Like some of the plot points, the Rudnicki’s screenplay doesn’t do much of the characters themselves. If you’ve seen any hillbilly horror movie, Forest of Death offers up the familiar dichotomy of city folk and questionable rural folk. Maybe the finale offers up a surprise – no spoilers here. Regardless the screenplay is as straightforward as the rest of the movie for better or worse.
Forest of Death a Low-Budget, Basic, and Occasionally Effective ‘Cabin in the Woods’ Tale
It’s hard to be overly critical of an indie project – one hopes these projects succeed and find and audience. Still there’s not much here to recommend to broader horror fans. Even Rudnicki’s inclusion of the wendigo myth can’t freshen up the ‘cabin in the wood’ mix with hints of hillbilly horror. Anyone who’s watched even a handful of horror movies has seen this story play out. On the plus side, Forest of Death breezes through its 85 minutes and boasts a handful of decently executed scares. And Rudnicki isn’t really trying to re-invent the wheel here. What Forest of Death delivers is a scrappy and ‘good’ horror movie within the limited confines of a micro-budget. Indie horror fans will enjoy it; wider horror audiences will likely be less favorable. Still there’s clearly some talent behind the camera.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C+