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Backwoods (2020) Review

Backwoods is the new film from director Thomas Smith and co-writer Erin Lilley and their company Fighting Owl Films. They did the enjoyably lighthearted noir with monsters Demon Squad. Now they’re back with something a bit different and a little less lighthearted. A backwoods slasher pitting a group of high school jocks and cheerleaders against a disfigured religious fanatic. A religious fanatic who likes to hang the boys and take the girls as brides.

Molly (Isabella Alberti, Triggered) comes to in the trunk of her boyfriend’s car. She manages to escape, but she feels like shit and her vision is blurry. She can’t remember how she got here, but she keeps getting flashbacks. To make matters worse, she’s stumbled into a makeshift cemetery. One with a bear trap in the middle of it.

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How did she get here? Was it because her boyfriend Hunter (Matthew McCoy) owes some money to his dealer (Jeremy Sande, Purgatory Road, Hallowed Ground). He seemed quite interested in collecting from her. Or was it Hunter himself who’s responsible? He did go into a violent rage after mistaking her joking around with Noah (Michael Anthony Bagozzi, Burnt Offering, Haven) for something else. Now she’s lost somewhere in Hangman’s Hollow. And The Hangman (Scott Alan Warner, Spriggan) might not be her biggest problem.

Running a fairly fast seventy minutes, Backwoods is a fairly basic kids party in the woods and die affair. It’s told partly in flashback as Molly’s memory comes back. That lets us skip a lot of introduction and get into the action faster. It also provides a few surprises, as things aren’t what they appear to be at first. Thankfully, the flashbacks are obviously so it doesn’t get confusing. And they’re well enough timed that they don’t ruin the film’s mood.

I have to give Smith credit for actually putting some effort into the film’s effects. The Hangman looks a bit like The Burning’s Cropsy in design, though the effects aren’t quite up to Savini’s work on that film. And, unlike many low budget horror films, the kills in Backwoods aren’t all bloodless or off-screen. He may have been named for his love of the noose, but The Hangman isn’t afraid to hack off limbs or smash a skull if the need be.

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The cast, and potential body count, is small. But the script does get most of them, such as Molly’s BFF Olive (Angelina Alberti, Convergence) and Hunter’s teammates Jess (Tahj Vaughans, Black Water) and Brett (Elliot Hamilton) into the woods and into danger. 

On the downside, there’s a couple of very badly choreographed fight scenes that really should have been reshot. From another angle, if the actors weren’t well enough trained to pull it off. Also, there’s talk early in the film about conspiracies and cover-ups associated with the area and its inhabitants, but nothing is ever done with that angle. Nor is The Hangman given much backstory. If he’s not the original killer, who is he? And why is he disfigured? A mid-title scene hints at a sequel that might explain more, though.

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Hopefully if there is a sequel it’ll have a bit more budget and make better use of its killer. Backwoods are miles ahead of films like Axegrinder 2 or Bone Breaker and should satisfy those who like these kinds of films. But with a bit more polish, The Hangman could cross over and find fans outside of the microbudget scene.

Gravitas Ventures and Kamikaze Dogfight will release Backwoods on VOD in the US on December 1st. You can check out the Fighting Owl Films Facebook page or website for more info.

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