So, why should seasoned Exquisite Terror readers take a chance on yet another low-budget picture that uses one of the most overused clichés in horror: a group of friends go to a deserted location and get picked off one by one by a vindictive force? Because writer-director Sean Breathnach manages to include elements that are too often forgotten in this genre — believable, sympathetic characters and strong performances from his cast of unknowns. The story is familiar, but it’s easy to care about these people when the slaughter begins, and Breathnach knows that’s half the battle.
Ignore the cheap DVD cover that promises a slasher; this is a full-blown supernatural thriller based around a mysterious sinkhole that opens up near the holiday cottage that seven friends have rented for the weekend in a rural part of Ireland. A sulphur smell is in the air, supposedly from a seam of burning minerals in the depth of the hole, and after a drunken late-night discussion concerning the merits of Heaven or Hell, the weirdness begins; a short walk in the woods that should take minutes actually takes hours, odd things are seen in mirrors, and it becomes obvious that the poisonous sulphur is affecting minds. Or is it? There’s definitely a creature out in the woods, but its motives are beyond just death. Those who are expecting standard gore and violence will be disappointed, but happily Beyond The Woods has more to offer.
Shot mostly handheld, there’s a style to Breathnach’s work that reminds one of Lars Von Trier, and he’s created an unsettling movie that comes as a genuine surprise. It’s not perfect; some of the pacing could be a little tighter, and there’s not really anything you haven’t seen before, but with solid characterisation throughout and the tension gearing up nicely in the second act, Beyond The Woods gets a strong recommendation.
John Ryan Howard
Ross Mac Mahon
19 Feb 2018