Read Ryan Daley’s review here
About 30 minutes into this thriller, I began to consider the irony of the production. Co-written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Koldo Serra, the film stars British Actors Paddy Considine (HOT FUZZ) and Gary Oldman as pair of vacationers who take their wives Virginie Ledoyen (THE BEACH) and Aitana Sánchez-Gijón (THE MACHINIST) to the Basque countryside to visit a rural cabin that Oldman inherited from his mother. After the group arrives the film settles into an uncomfortable character study of a pair of disintegrating relationships. The twist of the film comes near that 30 minute part—a point at which I was contemplating the humor in the fact that Ledoyen speaks French, Sánchez-Gijón speaks Spanish but the pair of them are communicating with each other in English. Considine also converses with the group in his native tongue but someone totally forgot to tell old Oldman—who is doing 75% of his dialogue in Spanish!
OK, I’m only joking there because Oldman’s character has taken it upon himself to speak with the locals in their own language—something most tourists get grief for not doing. In this case though, it seems that the fact that Oldman speaks Spanish is actually an irritant to the local villagers.
Back to the twist…Oldman and Considine are out and about in the woods near the cabin when they come across a shack. Ever curious, as vacationers in foreign lands are wont to do—they decide to check the place out. Inside they find a young child, dirty, feral and with horribly disfigured fingers. The pair decides to take the child in order to turn her over to the local police. When they arrive back at the cabin they discover that they are trapped by a fallen tree in the road so they decide to wait until morning to seek help. Trouble is, the clan of locals who’ve lost their daughter have a whole other agenda on their minds—and they’ll stop at nothing to get their child back.
THE BACKWOODS owes a massive debit to Sam Pechinpah’s 1971 classic STRAW DOGS. In fact it’s safe to imagine that had that film not existed then neither would this one. Paddy Considine is the Dustin Hoffman substitute and THE BACKWOODS is really his story. The story of how one man, who in life is meek and non-confrontational can be pushed so far over the edge by circumstances out of his control that all that he can do is fight back. Is THE BACKWOODS as good or as violent as STRAW DOGS? Well let’s just say that Koldo Serra is certainly no Sam Peckinpah.
The film is set in 1978 and the filmmaker takes pains to recreate not only the visual look and style of 1970’s cinema but unfortunately the languid pacing and even some of the sexual politics. It makes for a nostalgic if not overly-satisfying trip. The real problem, aside from the pacing, is that the film is riddled with moments that smack of character stupidity.
It’s almost impossible to feel any real compassion for the characters in the film. Oldman is a blowhard, Considine a wimp, Ledoyen is passive-aggressive and cold to her husband—even when she is later placed in the most terrifying situation, she shows no emotion. As the film reaches its final climax, Ledoyen seems to momentarily break out of her shell and perhaps that is ultimately what the film accomplishes. Despite all the horrors that have been committed, Considine and Ledoyen have finally found love. It’s hardly the ending I was looking for; it’s hardly the film I was expecting. I’m not sure, even now, what the intentions of the filmmakers were.
THE BACKWOODS played at several international horror and fantasy film festivals, including FantAsia and Scotland’s Dead By Dawn fests—but the film is no more horror than any revenge thriller. It reeks of 1970’s exploitation and so, perhaps by default, the audiences are the same. But, if you’re looking for a violent bloodbath of backwoods mayhem, you’d find a more satisfying sanguinary adventure with any given Sam Peckinpah film. Of course, you could just rent the granddaddy of them all…DELIVERANCE.