Hidden in the WoodsReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/21/12 04:48:51
SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The original Chilean version of "Hidden in the Woods" (an English-language remake featuring Michael Biehn from the same director is already in pre-production) certainly lives up to its introduction as a nasty, violent piece of work, and filmmaker Patricio Valladares often does an impressive job of making it into more than just sleazy exploitation. Not always, though, and while the film is very impressive at its best, it's often enough less than that as to leave me relatively cold.The movie doesn't waste much time making the audience uncomfortable - it opens on a woman dying in childbirth in 1987, bearing a second daughter to Felipe (Daniel Antivilio), a backwoods hermit whose primary source of income seems to be watching over the drug stash of "Uncle" Costelo (Serge François). Not much to do out in the woods, so it's not surprising when older sister Anny gives birth to her own half-brother in 1998. It's in 2010 that everything comes to a head, and Anny (Carolina Escobar), sister Ana (Siboney Lo), and sister/brother Manuel (José Hernandez) wind up fleeing to an outside world they've had little if any contact with while Felipe and Costelo both wind up seeking their "property".
Valladares does not mess around with establishing this as a bad situation, spending the opening act going through every ugly image that comes to mind when you say "backwoods hermit" just rapidly enough for the audience to understand that this is just the set-up while lingering for enough time for the nastiness to sink in. There's a genuine sense of panicked desperation as things go from known hell to unpredictable hell. And while Daniel Antivilio is a big, imposing guy to start with, he becomes absolutely monstrous when one thinks back on his performance as the father.
The other side to how quickly this horror show is established, though, is that it's very easy to be confused where the sisters are concerned. With their similar names, actresses who look enough like each other to be believably cast as sisters, and the fact that each is played by two or three different people within the first half hour, I had a hard time remember whether Anny or Ana was supposed to be older, which one had Manuel, and, once they had escaped, which one was attacking hikers with her brother and which one was turning tricks. It's not just that clarity is good in and of itself; making them feel so interchangeable took what seemed like horrifyingly personal stories and made them a little dehumanized. Once you've done that, the impression is less a horror story that strikes to the bone and more blood & guts exploitation.
And, to give Hidden in the Woods its due, it's pretty good at that. It goes for the gross-out with gusto, and while that does take a fair amount of the edge off the gritty, "based on a true story" vibe that the movie started with, there is a certain amount of ghoulish fun to it. One can smirk at the gangsters who don't know what sort of mess they're heading into, the performances by Lo and Escobar take an oft-entertaining turn for the operatic, and Antivilio becomes even more of an unstoppable monster.Perhaps if Valladares had chosen one sort of monster for Felipe to be - the horrifying real-world sicko or the larger-than-life horror movie villain - he could have made an exceptional movie of one type or the other. "Hidden in the Woods" feels like it can't make up its mind, though, and since it's a bit of a mess in other ways, the plentiful individual moments that are done well don't quite add up to a superior movie.
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