Deep Woods (2022) Review
Deep Woods, the first feature from writer/director Steve Laughlin, begins in quite a different location, the opulent chrome and glass offices of the architectural firm owned by Ty Ellsworth (Jilon VanOver, The Field Guide to Evil, Death Tunnel). Ty has, seemingly out of the blue, gotten in touch with his college buddy Nick (Eddie Spears, Bone Tomahawk, The Old Way) and suggested a hunting trip. Ty wants to “experience nature before it’s paved over” and since Nick is both Native American and a game warden, who better to go with?
For the film’s first half hour, Laughlin gives us a contrast between the world Ty knows and the rural, backwoods area Nick lives in. A tribal dance, talk of wendigos, a run-in with some loggers at a bar and of course, warnings from Sheriff Hadden (Tony Denison, Men of War, Wild Things 2) to stay on the trails once they’re in the woods. And we all know just how unlikely that is to happen.
Nick decides to take a nap and Ty goes it alone. But when he follows his dog off the trail he stumbles onto a cartel drug operation hidden in the woods. And they’ll do anything to keep it hidden. Lost and on his own Ty has to find a way out of the woods, but he’s facing more threats than he knows.
“Working in a genuinely wild environment is great for filmmaking and storytelling, but a challenge for cast and crew. Yet they rose to it, day after day through a variety of conditions.”Steve Laughlin
Because while Enrique hunts Ty through the forest, the other characters’ various secrets and loyalties come into play. This gives the film a second layer of suspense as we wonder who can be trusted, both among the main characters and others like the trapper (Jon Proudstar, Blood Relatives, Reservation Dogs) Ty meets in the woods.
With its small cast and limited interior sets, it’s obvious Deep Woods was shot on a low budget. Since that precludes any major gun battles or action set pieces. The cartel’s security seems to consist of a gunman named Enrique (Jessie Prez, Hot Mess Holiday, A Place to Be) and Romina (Rachel Cerda, Hunter, Who Gets the Dog) who pilots a surveillance drone. That seems a bit understaffed, but it is eventually explained via a last act revelation.
To be sure, none of this is very original, although that’s true about all too many films these days. But for a first-time filmmaker, Laughlin does a good job of pulling the familiar elements together and keeping the story interesting. The small cast actually works in Deep Woods’ favour to a certain degree. It’s most more believable that Ty can stay ahead of one man and a drone, rather than a small army out looking for him.
He’s supported by a cast that, while not familiar, is experienced. They deliver solid performances and help get the story through some of its weaker and more predictable moments. Deep Woods’ characters aren’t overly complicated but the performances keep them from lapsing into dull cliches. Or in one case, from going over the top in the final act. Also credit cinematographer Robb Fischer (Aswang, Expecting Mercy) for making the film look good and making the injured Ty’s pain-induced nighttime hallucination sequences effective.
While the story does have a couple of questionable elements, and some potentially interesting ideas are raised and then quickly dropped, Deep Woods is a decent way to pass ninety minutes. Just keep in mind that it isn’t trying to be an action film as much as it is a suspense film.