While a year of little to no major theatrical activity can be disappointing it has opened the attention and diversity of viewership on those that would not nearly get the clout had they been overshadowed by a major release, we’ve seen this especially with the horror genre and more specifically with films such as The Wretched and Host. This new “digital age” of premiers has been at the advantage of those looking to make an effective splash in the industry, this rings true for this little charming Latino-American horror film, Murder In The Woods.
Directed by Luis Iga Garza (Art Director of 2013’s The Call) and Produced and Written by Yelyna De Leòn (Teacher’s Lounge), the film follows a group of teenagers and young adults as they make their way to family cabin for the weekend outside of the greater Los Angeles area. As certain events take place throughout the road to the cabin and they arrive, the group begins to realize that they have somehow found themselves in a dangerous situation, leading them to struggle their way out of the cabin and get to safety. Both the characters and setting are played over situations ‘dark cabin with no reception’ and host the atypical cast of the virgin, awkward kid, jock, horny couple, etc., fortunately it is what Murder In The Woods does with dialogue that gives a surprising amount of attention to the characters. Too often in horror, particularly slasher films, are characters rapidly dynamic with no arc to explain their growth, this idea is rather switched for static characters, and all the more better for it.
As the film goes on there are a good amount of surprises used to test the characters and actors in a way that keeps the viewer guessing scene-by-scene. The best performances of the film going to Josè Julian’s and Kade Wise’s portrayals as Jesse and Jule, with Julian’s Jesse providing a convincingly awkward and unhinged acting job while Wise thrives as the “dudebro”-esque with the best lines and delivery in the entire film and arguably one of the best in recent horror memory in “Nah, I came to get laid.” Danny Trejo’s Sheriff Lorenzo is a comforting surprise for the cast, and he does soak-up the screen when he is present, despite for how short of time that may be.
The primary issues in Murder In The Woods are technical; the framing on shots could have used better blocking, and the handheld effect did see some faultiness with focus. Outside of the few in-camera issues, a few deeper grades of color correction and a few scenes of jarring editing could have really improved the execution, however those are simply subjective ideas. Overall Garza is very aware of how to utilize horror techniques such as the ‘stretch’, and there are very often times where objects or characters would move in the background which would effectively catch viewers offguard. Despite a rather abrupt ending, Murder In The Woods makes the most of it’s ninety-minute runtime.
Interestingly enough it appears that the film may have been shot or completed in 2017, as it has been making rounds throughout horror film festivals such as being a major contender during the LA Skins Fest in 2017, FANtastic Horror Film Festival in San Diego in 2018, and Macabre Faire Film Festival in 2018.
Murder In The Woods is a great time for a low-budget murder fest, definetly one that relies on the strengths of sharp dialogue and creative kills, whilst also having a interesting plot development later in the film. Luis Iga Garza and Yelyna De Leòn have a crafted a simple, yet crafty little horror film that should widen their catalogue to fans of the genre, and hopefully will continue in that direction, especially if they continue to use their Latino-centric identity that worked incredibly well as displayed here.
The film hits Digital/VOD nationwide on Sept. 18.
Score: 6 / 10.
Spoiler Review To Follow.