February 10, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Raine McCormack
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of England, the horror flick “The Village in the Woods” features an all-white cast representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A husband and a wife are stranded in the woods and arrive at a hotel, where some very strange things start to happen to them.
Culture Audience: “The Village in the Woods” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching forgettable and badly written low-budget horror films.
Getting trapped in the woods has become such a horror cliché that any movie with this concept should deliver something that’s truly unique and entertaining. Unfortunately, “The Village in the Woods” doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from the hundreds of other horror flicks that are based on a concept that people are trapped somewhere by evil forces. The movie’s cinematography, production design and music are all very solid, but “The Village in the Woods” can’t overcome its sloppily written screenplay, uneven pacing and some very wooden acting.
“The Village in the Woods” (directed by Raine McCormack, who co-wrote the screenplay with John Hoernschemeyer) begins with a married couple driving through the woods at night, somewhere in England. (The movie never names the city, but “The Village in the Woods” was actually was filmed in several locations: East Sussex, Kent and Somerset.) The woods are dense with trees and fog. And just as you would expect to happen in a horror movie, the couple’s car runs out of gas.
The spouses are named Jason (played by Robert Vernon) and Rebecca (played by Beth Park), who both look like they’re in their 30s. And they’re annoyed by the inconvenience of their car not working. But then again, when you’re in a horror movie and you run out of gas in a sinister-looking forest at night, it’s probably your fault. It can’t be blamed on any evil entities that might be waiting for you. And, of course, in a movie like this, cell phones can’t get a signal. Jason and Rebecca decide to sleep in the car and wait until the morning to get help.
The next morning, Rebecca and Jason walk through the woods until they find a large, shabby-looking Victorian-style hotel called the Harbour Inn, which looks like it’s seen better days. In a foreshadowing to come of their opposite points of view, Jason calls the hotel “brilliant,” while Rebecca calls it a “dump.” They decide to go into the hotel anyway and see if they can get help.
From the get-go, Rebecca is uncomfortable with the surroundings and wants to leave as quickly as possible. She gets even more freaked out when she spots an elderly man lurking nearby, as she and Jason walk toward the hotel. Just as soon as she sees this man, he disappears.
Before Jason and Rebecca even set foot at the front door, they are greeted outside by a middle-aged woman named Maddy (played by Therese Bradley), who immediately recognizes Rebecca and greets her warmly, by exclaiming, “Rebecca, we’ve been expecting you!” Rebecca seems a little caught off guard, as if she doesn’t recognize Maddy, but she pretends that she does.
Maddy immediately notices that Rebecca is wearing a turquoise ring. Maddy asks Rebecca if Kit gave her the ring, and Rebecca says yes. Maddy then adds, “I remember her wearing it.” Meanwhile, viewers are thinking, “Who is Kit? Where is this story going?”
Rebecca mentions the strange man that she saw. Maddy says that Rebecca and Jason shouldn’t pay attention to him, because he’s just an eccentric widower named Arthur (played by Sidney Kean), who lives at the hotel. Maddy explains that Arthur moved there after his wife died, “and we’ve been trying to get rid of him ever since.”
Jason tells Maddy that they need some gas for the car, and she willingly obliges by giving them some petrol in a can. However, when Jason puts the gas in the car, it still cannot start. And so, Jason and Rebecca go back to the hotel to figure out what to do next. Rebecca isn’t thrilled about being stuck there, while Jason is more willing to go with the flow and figure things out as they go along.
The movie slowly goes downhill from there. And by slowly, that includes the sluggish pace and the stilted way that many of the actors speak, with awkward pauses. It’s not the worst acting in the world, but better actors would have at least made this movie more engaging to watch. As Rebecca, Park is the actor in the cast who’s the most convincing, but that’s not saying much because the movie isn’t written very well, in terms of plot or dialogue.
One of the biggest flaws of “The Village in the Woods” is how the screenplay introduces plot developments and then leaves them dangling. For starters, Jason and Rebecca don’t even try to find any phones once they’re in the hotel. A hotel that doesn’t have phones is something that would be noticed right away by people who are stranded and their cell phones aren’t working. It’s a big plot hole. The hotel also doesn’t have electricity, which would be a major hassle for Jason and Rebecca, but they don’t even mention these inconveniences.
And in the beginning of the story, Jason and Rebecca appear to have the intent of getting gas for their car and going on their merry way after they leave the hotel. The movie doesn’t mention what their final destination plans are, but it’s made clear that they didn’t intend to stay at the hotel. In fact, the first few scenes of the movie make it seem as if Rebecca and Jason got lost and were not looking for the hotel but “stumbled” upon it by chance.
But then, the story takes an abrupt turn when it’s shown that Rebecca and Jason actually did plan to be at the hotel because they’re con artists who are after some money. They really did run out of gas for their car though. It’s never explained who Rebecca and Jason are supposed to get the money from, but Jason insists that staying at the hotel is the only way they can get the money.
Their con game is never fully detailed except that someone in this couple is impersonating a supposed heir to a fortune. It’s easy to figure out who the imposter is even before it’s revealed that this impersonation is going on, but this con-artist couple doesn’t seem to have any real plan on how to get the inheritance. It’s all just a vague smokescreen so the entire movie can have Jason and Rebecca stuck in this hotel in the woods.
Maddy keeps talking about inviting all of the villagers over to the hotel for a welcome party for Jason and Rebecca. You’d think that when someone says “all of the villagers,” that would be mean a crowd. Wrong. It turns out all of the other villagers consist of just three other people, who all appear to be in their 50s and 60s. This is a low-budget movie, but it’s still a bit of a stretch to have only four people as the entire number of residents of a village.
One of the other villagers is Charles (played by Richard Hope), who seems to be a friendly type. Charles is also Maddy’s lover, as Richard finds out when he overhears Maddy and Charles having sex in a room at the hotel. The village population is rounded out by Vince (played by Timothy Harker) and Anna (played by Chloe Bailey), who also appear to be a couple. All of the villagers have fake smiles and creepy stares so it’s obvious that they’re not as nice as they first appear to be.
“The Village in the Woods” drags on for too long with scenes that show Rebecca becoming increasingly desperate to leave the hotel, while Jason insists on staying. Arthur is a hermit who loiters around the hotel and provides some of the inevitable jump scares when Rebecca turns around and sees that Arthur has been staring at her. Can Arthur be trusted? The movie makes it too easy to figure out early on who the villains are.
There are some flashbacks to a witchy woman named Jenny (played by Katie Alexander Thom) and how she factors into the story. By the time she shows up at the hotel, some secrets have been revealed. And what happens at the movie’s conclusion (which is too rushed) will surprise very few people. The ending seems hastily cobbled together, in contrast to most of the movie that slowly crawls along with not much happening.
Given its low budget, “The Village in the Woods” makes very good use of location, since the atmosphere throughout the film is definitely spooky, as is the cinematography by Jamie Hobbis and Berndt Wiese. Writer/director McCormack, who also wrote the movie’s chilling music, did a competent but not outstanding job with Oral Norrie Ottey on the film editing.
The movie’s visual effects are adequate and not an embarrassment. The filmmakers overdid it on the fog effects though. There’s more fog in this movie than a concert festival with Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark on the bill.
With all of these technical elements working cohesively, it’s unfortunate that “The Village in the Woods” did nothing unique or imaginative with the movie’s forgettable story. There are too many over-used clichés in the plot, and the character development is non-existent. During the course of the movie, viewers learn almost nothing about Jason and Rebecca except that they’re con artists and Rebecca wants to be a mother.
Horror movies should not just be about the scares. Viewers have to be invested enough in the characters to care about what happens to them. And it’s hard to care when the characters are as vague and hollow as they are in “The Village in the Woods.”
4Digital Media released “The Village in the Woods” in the U.S. on digital, VOD and DVD on January 19, 2021. The movie was originally released in the U.K. in 2019.