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Sunday, May 22, 2016

GIRL IN WOODS -- Movie Review by Porfle

It looks like it's going to be one of those "predicament" stories like THE REEF or OPEN WATER, and more specifically like another go at Stephen King's "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" but with a grown-up girl lost in the woods this time instead of a little one.

But it isn't.  Hoo boy, is it not.

The aptly-titled GIRL IN WOODS (Candy Factory Films, 2016) is about Grace (Juliet Reeves, AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION, LAY THE FAVORITE), who probably doesn't even know who Tom Gordon is and wouldn't be out there in the first place if her boyfriend Jim (Reeves' real-life husband Jeremy London, MALLRATS, GODS AND GENERALS) hadn't invited her to his secluded cabin to pop the question.

The morning after their engagement Jim takes Grace on a hike deep into the woods and then, just when she's good and lost, manages to shoot himself in the head.  This puts Grace in an awkward position, one from which it will take the rest of the movie for her to extricate herself.  But does therein lie the entire plot?

Hardly.  GIRL IN WOODS is in no way your usual predicament thriller for one simple reason: Grace is a little nuts.  At first I thought there was something a tad "off" about Juliet Reeves' performance, because she was playing Grace in a strangely disaffected manner, as though the character weren't "all there." 

Then I gradually realized that Grace ISN'T all there. In fact, she's so far from "there" that in no time, the situation in which she finds herself quickly becomes a descent into one level of madness after another, with flashbacks from her troubled childhood (horrific images of Daddy committing suicide and boogeymen invading her bedroom at night) constantly assailing her along with a series of nightmarish hallucinations. 

This gives the story a whole new dimension beyond the usual survival theme, with Grace's ideas for survival proving not only unconventional but downright shocking. The story takes place not just in the woods but also largely in the dark depths of her warped mind, where the past keeps playing itself out in increasingly disturbing ways.

To make things worse, two distinct sides of her personality--the rational and the feral--begin to appear to her as separate entities (giving Reeves a chance to really prove her acting talent) and battle over whether or not she'll remain civilized or surrender to utter savagery. 

Writer-director Jeremy Benson keeps it all well-paced and scintillating enough to maintain our avid interest right up to the fadeout (stick around through the end credits for the newspaper headlines) with only a few slightly draggy spots here and there.  Mainly he does a fine job with a story that takes place in a forest and in the mind of a character who is usually alone on the screen.

Grace does get "visits" from a loving grandfather (John Still) who beckons her to join him (he's dead, by the way) and from her parents (Lee Perkins as "Dad" still sports his suicidal head shot).  The lovely Charisma Carpenter (THE EXPENDABLES, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is memorable as "Momma", whom we come to feel may not have been the most healthy influence on little Grace (Shaun Benson). 

Will Grace survive, and if so, what will be left of her?  Things don't totally come together until near the end, when all the stuff we're not supposed to know yet starts falling into place.  Then the plot twists come one after another and mess with your expectations in all sorts of ways, and GIRL IN WOODS turns out to be one of those intensely involving movies that make your imagination feel like it just had a full-body massage.

Premieres on Cable VOD & Digital HD June 3rd.


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