“Are you ready for this? I’ve got a concept that’s going to blow your fucking minds! A bunch of attractive college kids go camping in the woods and then….get this….are killed by a deranged murderer! What’s that? It’s been done!? Impossible! What……how many times? Too many to count!? Well…..fuck it, let’s roll anyway!”
That’s how I like to imagine the conversation went down at Zell-Koj Studio when they decided to roll out the most well-worn concept in horror filmmaking as their debut feature. Okay, so obviously that’s not how it was but any time I hear that plot line being dusted off again it fills me with the same skepticism as when I hear someone is making another zombie film. But to be fair, there is a lot room within those basic structures to incorporate some very interesting and unique ideas. Films like Wyrmwood and You’re Next are a testament to that. So, does Dark Forest flex it’s creative muscles to bring us a fresh and interesting take on a tired subgenre or does it sink into a sea of mediocrity along with countless other forgotten slashers? Well, let’s discuss.
The story follows Emily (Laurel McArthur) who goes on a camping trip with her three friends to relax, reconnect and to temporarily escape from her abusive boyfriend Peter (Dennis Scullard). When Peter learns that she has gone away without him for an entire weekend he flies into a murderous rage and quickly heads off to the woods to exact his horrible revenge on Emily and her friends.
According to Zell-Koj Studio’s own press release, this was made as an 80’s inspired slasher but I take issue with low-budget horror films that simply try to co-opt that identity in order to justify campy acting and low production values. Even though the film employs the same plot devices that have been in use since Friday the 13th, the rap/techno soundtrack, prevalence of smartphones and a music video style bikini montage give it a distinctly modern feel. Stranger Things this is not.
For the most part though, the acting is serviceable for what it is and Scullard’s portrayal of the psychotic Peter does stand out as a highlight even though he isn’t given much to work with from a character standpoint. I am certainly willing to overlook a lot when it comes to the practical shortcomings of a micro-budget film but what is particularly aggravating in this case is that the film doesn’t even aspire to be anything more than a generic Hollywood slasher with a fraction of the budget. Nothing about the film even hints at attempting to be original and even a best case scenario version of this would have been nothing more than soulless entertainment.
Speaking of entertainment value, most of the kills are solid and appropriately bloody, even if the blood itself looks distractingly fake in some scenes. Unfortunately, they are presented without any suspense or tension as Peter seems to teleport around as required to kill off the expendable characters. Now, to it’s credit, the film is competently shot but then again so is Hollywood garbage like Transformers and Big Momma’s House. Competently shot should not be the single bar that a film aspires to clear.
My hope is that Zell-Koj will branch out into more innovative directions with future projects that at least attempt to break some kind of new ground. At a time when we have a virtually endless supply of genre films to watch, filmmakers need to bring something new to the table instead of just showing up with a pale version of something we are already tired of seeing.