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Red Woods (2021) Review

Red Woods (not to be confused with Tom Paton’s vampire film Redwood) is a new found footage film that combines several familiar plot elements in an attempt to stand out in a crowded genre. A group of urban explorers looking for spooky video decide to go rural. They’re soon lost in the woods and being hunted by somebody making his own deadly film. Can writer/director Nicholas Danko (Bad Blood, My Worst Enemy) make it work? Or will he just create a bigger collection of clichés?

Dutch (Brian E. Stead) and his partner Cross (Michael Barnett) head deep into Pennsylvania’s Redstone County Forest to film several abandoned houses. Going with them are several other explorers/videographers including Madhouse (Justin Rose, Haunt, False Flag), Raven (Jennifer Milligan, Wormwood’s End) and Flynn (Stephanie Swift, Occurrence at Mills Creek, Massacre Academy).

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By making this a team effort, Red Woods avoids one of the biggest issues many people have with found footage films, everything being shot from one shaky perspective. There’s footage from multiple experienced camera people, including Ensa (Michael Cruse) who has a drone. Also, since the killer is filming, we get some of their footage edited in early in the film, giving it more of a conventional feel.

Danko takes advantage of this to slowly build up the tension as they get deeper into the woods and find increasingly odd things. An overgrown cemetery, bloodstains in an empty house, a decaying body in another. Which is the point where I’d be ready to leave, but since they’re meeting another group, that isn’t an option.

It’s a story inspired by the thrill and intrigue of exploring the decaying and the abandoned,” explains writer/director Nicholas Danko. “Documenting these spooky old houses, there’s always that spine-tingling thought of ‘what if this place isn’t abandoned?’

Things become a bit more overt when they unexpectedly meet up with Devlin aka Neo Fuego (Michael Patrick Trimm, I Had Fun) a videographer whose work runs to the macabre and violent. He disappears as mysteriously as he appeared, leaving a camera full of suspicious footage behind. And he’s not the only one to vanish.

Red Woods plays on the paranoia and suspicions that naturally develop in a situation like this. Most of the characters are strangers to each other, which makes them all suspects. If not as the killer, because his identity is intentionally obvious, then his accomplice.

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Cross is already paranoid, spouting conspiracy theories about “The Feds” by the dozen. He’s also armed. But his brother Adam (Adam Cooley) is among the missing so he can be trusted, right? How about the one who won’t stop filming no matter what? The ones that chose to bail out rather than help find those who went missing?

The final half hour of Red Wood is surprisingly tense given this is a found footage film, so we know how it will end. The big difference, at least for me, was the way it was shot. It doesn’t look like a found footage film and that, combined with a good script, let me forget I was watching one. Granted, most conventional horror films end the same way as most found footage films do these days, but it’s nice not knowing it before the film even starts.

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Apart from that, my biggest gripe about the film is one it shares with a lot of low budget films. A lack of on-screen kills and effects. Red Woods does at least partially make up for it with a spectacular and explosive climax. It’s an excellent finish to a solid film.

Red Woods will be available to rent and own on North American digital HD internet, cable, and satellite platforms on February 5th, 2021. And on Blu-ray on February 9th, 2021 through Freestyle Digital Media. You can check their Facebook page and the film’s website for more details.

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