The Widow or Vdova as it’s known in its native Russia is the most recent in a wave of horror films to reach North America. Films like Mermaid: The Lake of the Dead, The Bride, and the sci-fi horror hybrid Sputnik to name a few.
A series of title cards tell us that more than 300 people disappear in the forests around St. Petersburg every year. Some are found dead, and naked. Some are never found. This is intercut with interviews with locals talking about feeling a presence in the woods, one they refer to as The Lame Widow.
From there we jump in with a search and rescue unit led by Victoria (Viktotiya Potemina)and Andrey (Konstantin Nesterenko). When their train exercise becomes the real thing Kristina (Anastasiya Gribova) the reporter accompanying them.is excited to have a real story to cover. Two boys went into the woods, the younger one returned in a state of shock. Their mission is to find his older brother Nikita (Oleg Chugunov, The Blackout). Instead, they find a woman (Margarita Bychkova), naked and in shock.
While I’ve seen The Widow referred to as a found footage film it isn’t. The film does use plenty of POV footage from the team’s helmet cams, but much of it is conventionally shot. Director Ivan Minin and his co-writers Natalya Dubovaya and Ivan Kapitonov (the latter two having collaborated on Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest and Dark Spell among others) have taken the 2017 disappearance of an S&R team and “recreated” what allegedly happened. Which makes an overheard radio news broadcast mentioning “former President Trump” being indicted for fraud seem a bit out of place.
The first half-hour or so plays out like an adventure film as we meet the crew and they head into the woods. The biggest hazard they face is the very unsupernatural problem of their truck bogging down in the mud. Until they find the road blocked and the woman wakes up and recounts the tale of The Lame Widow. She was a local woman who killed her abusive husband and was drowned in a pit full of mud by villagers. Now she haunts the woods using black magic to take her revenge.
Once it finally gets around to being scary, The Widow does make good use of its dark forest setting and some odd straw figures to build atmosphere. Unfortunately, it’s woefully slow to capitalize on it, preferring to keep everyone wandering around in the dark Blair Witch style.
It’s not until around the fifty-minute mark that anything definitively supernatural happens, and it’s nothing particularly frightening. In its last twenty minutes, The Widow tries to make up for the wait. In an ironic, or is that meta, touch the climax is kicked off by footage from a cell phone they found in the woods. But the brief flurry of activity it sets off isn’t worth the wait.
There’s nothing wrong with a film being a slow burn, but The Widow never catches fire. It’s a smouldering ember, all atmosphere and no payoff. The real villain isn’t The Lame Widow, it’s the lame script. It spends way too much time teasing us with possibilities it never actually follows through on. Then when something does happen, it’s underwhelming.
Shout! Factory Will release The Widow in the US and Canada on March 30th. The Blu Ray and DVD will have both a subtitled and a dubbed print. I saw the dubbed cut, and while it probably didn’t help matters I can’t imagine subtitles would have made much difference. Now if the creature from the poster had made an appearance, that would have been a different matter.