On the undisturbed surface A Night in the Woods appears to be nothing but another run of the mill found footage horror. Examine the surface with a little more intent and you will still find a formula present that occurs unashamedly in many other films of this genre. There is but one key difference, the story is interesting. The people’s lives are interesting. The characters are not so diabolically facile and nerve-shreddingly stupid that you are wishing a gruesome fate upon them by the time it comes around. This may seem like a minor detail but it renders Richard Parry’s A Night in the Woods completely enjoyable even if the found footage horror tag makes you wince.
Thirtysomething year old couple Brody (Scoot McNairy) and Kerry (Anna Skellern) are taking off on a camping trip in eerie Dartmoor, where creaky woods and misty plains are aplenty. The two have an engaging dynamic, Kerry being a Brit and Brody an American ,gives lots of room for playful mockery of each other’s culture. Visiting Stonehenge on their way to the camping ground allows Brody ample ammunition about the lack of stature of Great Britain’s monuments when compared to the majesty of the Grand Canyon. Much is routine horror back-story but McNairy in particular adds an appealing and entertaining dimension to segments that could easily have fallen flat.
Joining them on their trip is Kerry’s cousin Leo (Andrew Hawley), a figure who causes disturbance between the young couple; Brody’s dislike for him betrays his usual exuberance although he neglects to explain himself. The tension that grows between the trio makes for exciting viewing as piece by piece the puzzle is put together with the finished picture always out of sight. They try to make light of the situation, choosing instead to frolic and joke about the supposedly haunted wood in which they will soon be sleeping.
The terror, when it comes, is not unlike other horrors of this ilk but the characterisation up to this point makes it far more exciting and there is considerably more investment in the outcome. The infrared camera bundling through the wood adds thrill of ambiguity as to what exactly is happening and there are intriguing twists along the way, although not of the overblown M. Night Shyamalan kind. Although the finale is simple and well-worn the film does not stagnate because of it. A lacklustre finish does not detract from what is a thoroughly nifty little film, at just 82 minutes long, it is short, sharp and one hell of a ride.