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The Woods

Agnes Bruckner stars in this decent but ultimately unsatisfying 2006 creeper as Heather, a troubled teen whose knack for pyromania lands her in a strict northeastern boarding school. Heather encounters all of the usual bugaboos of new-school orientation: homesickness, rumors about her fiery reputation, social pressures amped up by vicious cliques, and the scorn of Falburn Academy's stern taskmasters. But that's not all — the headmistress, Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson), commands a crew of oddball, twitchy old maids, and Heather's initial nightmares are confirmed by rumors that a century earlier the school was the site of a witchcraft-inspired massacre. Heather's acute psychic connection to the school's dark vibes — and the menacing voices emanating from the surrounding woods — earns her enrollment in a special program that has already driven one student to suicide and reduced Heather's only friend, Marcy (Lauren Birkell), to a quivering mass of fear. Right from the start, The Woods aspires to more than the average straight-to-video genre filler, with the hauntingly girlish vocals of 1960s pop gloom-nymph Lesley Gore setting an effective tone for the movie's enjoyably quirky retro-riffs on the menaces of a remote all-girls school. Clarkson's Traverse, and her zombie-like minions, are perfectly stiff and carefully nuanced, filling out director Lucky McKee's ambitious atmosphere with distinction, and the addition of indie horror icon Bruce Campbell as Heather's dad (with occasional references to his woods-besieged start in the classic The Evil Dead) adds confection for genre fans. David Ross' screenplay, while slow to the point, includes enough captivating little details (like students disappearing from their beds and replaced by ominous piles of leaves), to keep viewers engaged as the mysteries grow — but only until it becomes clear that he has no real idea of what those mysteries are or what to do with them. As The Woods' conclusion becomes increasingly boilerplate and narratively incoherent (much like the similar but far better Suspiria), the taciturn Heather diminishes as a figure of interest, and the story's initially intriguing elements scatter like foliage in the swift gust of its own collapse. Fans of the venerable "all-girls school" subgenre will also be disappointed by a complete lack of the expected lurid deliverables, leaving The Woods without even any prurient pleasures to recommend it by. Also with Angela Bettis, Emma Campbell, and Rachel Nichols. Sony's DVD release offers a very good anamorphic (2:35:1) and full-screen transfers with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. No extras, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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