Of all the atrocities committed in “Hidden in the Woods”, the butchering that apparently took place in the editing room is the only thing that really resonates. With no moral compass and no discernible point, other than to foist upon us a tragic story (purported to be based on true events) about two young girls who escape the grasp of their abusive drug-smuggling father only to encounter every other abusive scumbag in the Chilean countryside, this arrhythmic horror story/crime thriller looks like it was pieced together by a 10-year-old with no understanding of the subject’s gravity. Exploitative in the purist sense, though far more disturbing on paper than in the film, “Hidden in the Woods” mocks rape, child abuse, incest and murder with an unsettling nonchalance that vacillates between soap opera and really bad grindhouse cinema. Moreover, the script, consisting of more variations of “bitch”, “redneck”, ”retard” and “fuck” than simple pronouns (the film is subtitled, though by halfway through you can easily guess what they’re saying), is too idiotic to be considered insulting, subjecting us to the most extreme possible stereotypes in sometimes comic fashion. It would be easy to label this film as misogynistic; even the most well-known B films of the horror/exploitation era that have been described that way by critics – “Last House on the Left” and “I Spit on Your Grave” are arguably two of the best examples – have defining moments where the victims seek some sort of retribution, and exhibit at least some understanding of right and wrong. But “Woods”, in which young Ana and Anny (Sibony Lo and Carolina Escobar) liberate themselves and their deformed brother Manuel (José Hernandez) from the shackles of their horrific upbringing, operates on a completely different plane, plodding along like business as usual from one gruesome encounter to the next, as the girls continuously get brutalized by stray hikers, random weirdos and a group of thugs sent by their uncle (Serge François Soto), a lecherous drug kingpin looking for product stashed by their psychotic pedophile father (Daniel Antivilo) who’s in prison for hacking up a couple of cops with a chainsaw. As off-the-wall as that may sound, the whole thing is a pretty numbing experience, impossible to take seriously as nearly every scene is an amateurish attempt to shock. Those seeking a gory good time will also be disappointed, as the most brutal scenes are virtually incoherent. Chilean director/co-writer Patricio Valladares gives us no depth and no sense of where things are happening from scene to scene, which are incredibly choppy and inconsistent. And after the girls inexplicably turn to cannibalism (and appear to enjoy it), there’s no one to root for. Exploring this psychology might have made this a more effective stomach turner; instead, the girls, like all the depraved lunatics they encounter during the course of the film, are part of an amoral tapestry that is almost impossible to make heads or tails of. Let’s see if Valladares does any better with the American remake slated for release next year.
“Hidden in the Woods” comes to us from Artsploitation Films with a very clean transfer, as befits a film shot with Canon digital cameras. Because of the nature of Valladares’ style, there’s not a lot of room to really appreciate the picture, as his close-ups and quick edits leave us staring at a screen full of sweaty faces and bloodstained walls. As Valladares has used his cameras to get as close to his subjects as possible to make this a completely “in your face”-type of movie, the transfer handles it well, giving us as much fine detail as it can.
The extras include a behind the scenes look at the making of the film, and here’s where you can see the full extent of the practical makeup effects that were so quickly glossed over during the film itself, and you can see a whole lot more of the scenery that Valladares chooses not to let you see. With as much work that went into these set pieces (the hiker cabin attack, the shootout in the druglord’s house), it’s a wonder why Valladares chose not to make the cameras take a step back in order to highlight them properly; at least you get to see glimpses of what might have been in this segment. Also included is an interview with Valladares himself, where he enthusiastically talks about the history and future of the movie. Rounding out the extras are a “clap reel” (all of the shots of the clap sticks being clicked together before the start of a take) and the film’s trailer, which is way more effective than the movie it advertises.
“Hidden in the Woods” releases today on Video On Demand (through Amazon and VHX) and DVD.
MOVIE REVIEW BY MICHAEL PARSONS
DISC REVIEW BY EDDIE PASA