Review: Baba Yaga: Terror Of The Dark Forest (2020)

Baba Yaga is a child-eating witch who frequently turns up in Russian folklore. Outside of her homeland, she’s probably best known for making an appearance in Neil Marshall’s Hellboy reboot. Or as the nickname the Russian mob has for John Wick. Although I’m fairly sure the writers confused it with babayka which means bogeyman. Now, the Russian film Baba Yaga: Terror Of The Dark Forest wants to change that.

Egor (Oleg Chugunov, The Blackout: Invasion Earth) is still upset about his father (Alexei Rozin) marrying Yulia (Maryana Spivak) after his mother’s death. And he doesn’t feel very brotherly towards their infant daughter, Varya. Until both she and her Nanny Tatyana (Svetlana Ustinova, Hardcore Henry) vanish, and his parents act like they never existed.

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Now, along with his friend Dasha (Glafira Golubeva) and local bully Anton (Artyom Zhigulin) he has to find her before they too vanish and are forgotten. And as if that’s not bad enough, Egor is essential to Baba Yaga’s plans.

With so many Russian science fiction films like Attraction and Sputnik getting released in the West, I was curious to see a Russian horror film. Unfortunately, director Svyatoslav Podgaevsky (The Bride, Mermaid: The Lake of the Dead) and co-writers Natalya Dubovaya and Ivan Kapitonov, who also wrote The Widow, seem to have been watching too many American genre films. Baba Yaga might be a denizen of Russian folklore, but Baba Yaga: Terror Of The Dark Forest looks and feels like an American film, and a kid’s film at that. Call it, The Goonies Meet the Wicked Witch.

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Baba Yaga: Terror Of The Dark Forest revolves around three youngsters, all of whom with troubled home lives, who have to team up to defeat a great evil. One of them it turns out is the key to the witch being able to permanently enter our world. The only adult on their side is Alexey (Aleksey Rozin) an outcast who lives in the forest since losing his wife and daughter Seta (Marta Timofeeva, Welcome to Mercy) to the witch. He is very much a secondary character who is missing for much of the mid-portion of the film.

The film isn’t just kid-centred, it’s kid-friendly. There’s also no blood apart from the split lip Egor gets from his father. And, despite the material, the film is never really scary. There’s the odd jump scare, but that’s it. There’s no sense of real danger or threat. I’m sure, however, kids will find it a lot more thrilling than I did. So if you have a budding horror geek in your life, this might be worth getting. But those looking for something like the director’s previous films will be disappointed.

Shout Factory will release Baba Yaga: Terror Of The Dark Forest on September 1st. The Blu-ray will have a choice of both subtitled and dubbed versions. Both of those versions however are 97 minutes which must be an International version, IMDB lists the film at 113 minutes.

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