Quite a few critics have been known to use the term “exploitation film” as an insult, despite the fact that some of the greatest horror movies of all time can be considered part of this brutal yet captivating corner of filmmaking history. While I personally have a hard time enjoying rape-revenge and so-called “torture porn” movies, these films have a right to exist. This is why I approached Patricio Valladares’ thriller, Hidden in the Woods, with an open mind.
An English-language remake of Valladares’ 2012 Chilean film of the same name, Hidden in the Woods stars Jeannine Kaspar and Electra Avellan as Anna and Anny, two young sisters that have been raised in isolation by their abusive and drug-dealing father, Oscar, played by Michael Biehn. When Oscar sets out on a killing spree, the sisters manage to escape with their younger sibling/child, only to find themselves confronted with a world of sex, violence and vengeful drug cartels.
As if the plot didn’t sound cheerful enough, it’s actually based on an allegedly true story from Chile. This brings up some issues of whether or not it’s in good taste for the film to feature so many graphic depictions of sexual assault and murder, though in some ways it can be argued that the movie is promoting the positive discussion of these sensitive issues by not shying away from them. That doesn’t make it any easier to watch, however.
There may be some merit to the way that Hidden in the Woods tackles its subject matter, but it’s certainly not an enjoyable experience. The aggressive and mostly realistic nature of the film ultimately make things feel too depressing, with Anna and Anny being reduced to extremely unfortunate punching bags instead of fully fleshed-out characters. When the dust finally clears, the viewer is left only with a feeling of relief, not necessarily triumph or satisfaction.
In any case, the cast certainly does their job well (especially an unexpected William Forsyth as Uncle Costello), and even bring some much needed moments of tenderness to the table. Sadly, the script doesn’t give Kaspar or Avellan enough to work with, as they’re soon thrown back into the fray. Another strange note is that, even with all these talented actors, the movie sometimes looks cheap, especially when compared to the original. It may be because of the use of natural lighting, or the logistics behind relocating to the United States, but it’s certainly odd that an American remake feels like a downgrade.
In the end, Hidden in the Woods isn’t entirely devoid of redeeming value, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good film, nor an entertaining one. While many similar exploitive films use exaggerated violence and characterizations to make the viewing experience feel more fun than disgusting, only the most desensitized of horror-hounds will enjoy this peculiar remake.
Hidden in the Woods will be released on VOD on December 2nd!