Awake in the Woods review

by Sean McLaughlin

They say the imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Whoever “they” are obviously did not watch “Awake in the Woods”, the new “lost footage” thriller from director Nicholas Boise, and MM Mayhem Films. This film has its moments, but is such a hodge-podge of the docu-reality formula that has proven successful for other horror films in the last decade that it never even tries to forge its own identity. Boise seems content to simply borrow the identity of others.

“Awake in the Woods” begins by interviewing a young woman, suffering from amnesia and violent tendencies, that has recently been institutionalized (at the cleverly named “Boise Home for the Criminally Insane”) amid whispers of “the woods”. The woods are an urban/farmland legend (the film is set in upstate New York) that supposedly steals young girls and forces them to commit horrid atrocities. When strange occurrences begin to happen to college grad Ronnie, she and her two lifelong friends decide to document her every move in the hopes of capturing the mystery on film. Problem number one……for some reason they feel the best place to go is directly in the woods, and camp out for a few days. They walk around aimlessly, and even puncture the artificial tension with a few light-hearted moments. Ronnie begins seeing things, namely a local missing girl running around the woods, which her buddies Derek (Keith Collins) and Tucker (director Boise) are skeptical of. Of course, they could just rewind the tape at any moment……but that’s beside the point. In a rather short amount of time, the “woods” begin taking hold of its prey and the final scene(s) fly at you quickly and frantically.

I will say that the imagery in this film is stellar. The woods that they used for their locale is quite stunning in its beauty and simplicity, and at the same time portrays the sense of isolation and creepiness that Boise is going for. However, as with another movie which I’ll finally name shortly, the nighttime scenes, which are critical in setting up the impending doom that awaits, are way too slow and visually hard to follow to be effective. The story is predictable, and a few of the pivotal frames throughout are jumpy and a bit comical. It’s unfortunate that this film cannot establish itself early on, because it truly could’ve been an interesting take on how this particular horror subgenre has evolved in the past 12 years or so. But instead, it appears like a conglomerate of its predecessors’ highlights instead of breaking new ground.

As I watched “Awake in the Woods” play out, I kept thinking one thing: If I trash Rob Zombie for his Texas Chainsaw ripoff “House of 1000 Corpses” (which I do), then I MUST do the same for this movie and its blatantly obvious “Blair Witch” overtones. These aren’t just subtle allusions, or indirect influences. There are moments, such as finding a building foundation in the middle of nowhere, which reek of imitation. Sometimes this can be a good thing, but it just doesn’t work for me here. The only way I can describe this movie is “The Last Broadcast” meets “Blair Witch”, with a hint of “Paranormal Activity”. Individually, these films are great. All thrown together, there’s no synergy (or unpredictability).

From these low-budget, high-energy horror movies a gem will sometimes be born (think “Evil Dead”). Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening with “Awake in the Woods”. There’s a difference between being influenced by other movies in a genre and being completely derivative of them. It’s a fine line, but this film appears to be more indicative of the latter.

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