Ahhh the woods, the go to, ready-made set that is the favorite location for countless indie horror films. I understand the practicality of using this as a primary location, but aspiring filmmakers would do well to keep this advice in mind before they start lugging their cameras into the wilderness: If you are going to set your teen-massacring film in the woods, as we’ve seen countless times before, you’d better bring your fucking A game and show us a very creative and interesting twist on the most tired premise in horror. Otherwise, don’t bother showing up. So, even though it’s utilizing the most played out concept in horror cinema does The Small Woman in Grey elevate itself above the masses with a quality script and innovative filmmaking? Well, let’s discuss.
The film centers around a group of teens who go into the woods to party. Coincidentally, they happen to run into a man who got separated from the rest of his broad daylight ghost hunting group (!) and is conveniently able to tell them all about the ghost that allegedly haunts the woods. Predictably, it’s not long before members of the group start dying mysteriously, and it’s up to the remaining survivors to try and figure out why before it’s too late.
So, clearly writer/director Andrew Sean Eltham-Byers wasn’t looking to break any new ground with the concept here. But, even a film about (yawn) teens partying in the woods until a mysterious stranger imparts plot exposition can still be worthwhile if the characters are well-crafted and compelling. Well, that’s unfortunately not the case here because while the characters aren’t the overt caricatures we sometimes see in these kinds of films, they are still completely insufferable and uninteresting. The fact that this is a micro-budget film means that the painfully amateur acting is somewhat forgivable….but the generic, plodding script is not.
Still, I’ve seen plenty of films that may not have had the most innovative plot but still managed to deliver a high level of entertainment value through well-crafted kills scenes. Sadly, this is where Eltham-Byers commits the most egregious cinematic sin and opts for bargain-basement CGI effects over practical ones. Shame! Shame! Shaaaaame! Seriously, this is a decision that I can’t even wrap my head around. I mean, even CGI effects on multi-million dollar productions often end up residing in the dreaded uncanny valley, but when your budget is next to nothing, the chance of pulling off convincing CGI is about the same. It’s a lot smarter move to scale back your set pieces to what you can effectively execute so you don’t end up with cartoony graphics that look like they were made on a home computer in the 90s.
Okay, this film has a lot of self-inflicted wounds but there were still some aspects that I did genuinely appreciate. For instance, it was refreshing to see a film where the primary romantic subplot involved a homosexual couple but was presented as casually as a heterosexual relationship, which was a nice, progressive touch. There are also a few times that the film was effectively creepy, but they were the all too infrequent times that Eltham-Byers opted for the subtler, less-is-more approach. Any scenes where the ghost was on full display in all her CGI glory were just awful, but the couple of times she was limited to a sinister voice and a shadow crossing the scene were (not surprisingly) far more effective.
Between the terrible pop music, worse special effects, lame script and unironic use of montages there isn’t really anything about this film to make it worth recommending. It is clear that everyone involved put a lot of effort into the production, but if Eltham-Byers had spent a little more time on the script and effects and a little less time on figuring out how to make text bubbles pop up on screen then perhaps it would’ve paid off with a better finished product.