BY: DAKOTA DAHL
Starring: Scotty Bohnen, Danny Bohnen, Jason Potter and Vivienne Edridge
Directed by: John Crockett and Brian McCulley
Written by: Danny Bohnen and Scotty Bohnen
Blood Brothers Productions/Cult Classic Horror
Twenty years ago, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT came out with a bang, and while it wasn’t the first found footage film ever made, it did seem to breath new life into the subgenre. SHE WALKS THE WOODS is an open love letter to both the genre and the Blair Witch, with much the same premise but delivered in some new and spooky ways. The film isn’t perfect, but what it does get right is so delightfully charming that it makes you somewhat forget what your criticisms were.
The film sets itself apart from most other found footage by starting in media res where we see a bunch of unknown hapless hunters becoming prey to the titular “She.” They are all dragged off screen by some howling monstrosity, which removes any ambiguity as to whether this is a creature feature or not. Anyone who was pissed we never actually got to see the Blair Witch will be happy to know that the monster definitely gets some serious screen time. She’s even on that poster up there!
This is where we are introduced to the actual protagonists of the story, the hosts and crew of a survivalist web series. The two hosts, Brad and Mike Rayburn (played by actual brothers Scotty and Danny Bohnen, hosts of the incredible podcast The Cult Classic Horror Show) along with their camera operator, Dennis Copley (Jason Potter, SNAQ, REALM OF SHADOWS.) They are preparing a trip up into the secluded woods courtesy of a friend of Dennis’, a girl named Hope (Vivienne Edridge, THE MORG) that he knew from film school.
The film then goes through great pains to introduce the personality of each character, with Mike being a more serious host and Brad being a hopeless goofball/dickhead. They banter organically, pick up Hope, and drive out to the cabin in the woods. Pretty standard stuff.
The cabin is bare bones, with a tree growing right through the middle of it and a toilet you need to manually put peat moss into. Nearby is a standard abandoned hippie van and a torn-up teepee. Also, there’s a small amount of exposition that Hope offers up, saying that the last people who rented the cabin up and disappeared, leaving all their stuff behind. I guess now we know who those hunters at the beginning of the film are and why they were relevant.
The kids hike a bit, Dennis and Hope hook up while the hosts watch creepily, and they cook hot dogs. Just when you think you may have wandered into an actual camping show, an overnight camera picks up someone or something wandering into their campsite, if only for a moment.
From there on out, things devolve into madness quickly. A snare trap they set up catches something, but whatever it was ends up torn to shreds before they can claim their prize. This makes the hosts believe they are dealing with a mountain lion, which they attempt to get footage of, and then they end up encountering something horrendous.
The thing I want to compliment the most about this film is the sound design. Whoever on the crew came out with the unearthly shriek that “She” makes to intimidate her prey was incredible. I have watched countless monster movies where the beast lets out a howl that is clearly just a distorted bear. I have never heard a monstrous howl that made me think “well there’s something I wouldn’t want to encounter in the dark” but somehow, SHE WALKS THE WOODS pulled off exactly that.
Towards the end of the film, when the action is really jumping and everyone is running for their lives, there’s a scene where the monster is slowly revealed that genuinely made me shout in surprise. It was surprisingly well done while still not being a cheap jump scare. This is doubly impressive considering that the makeup for the actual monster is actually kind of hokey, so to induce fear despite that is truly masterful (like how JAWS is a classic, but the shark looks dumb as hell.)
The biggest problem with the film is the pacing. After the first three minutes of the movie dedicated to monster attack, it then takes the better part of an hour for the crew to encounter any real obstacles. This comes off as an excuse for the actors to show off their ad-libbing skills without contributing to the plot in any sort of substantial way. If you thought THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was slow in parts, be prepared to check your phone a few times in the middle of this movie.
Speaking of ad-libbing, those are the only points in which the actors really shine. The chemistry between the four characters is somewhat believable, but the acting gravitas falls apart when anyone outside of Vivienne Edridge must convey fear. This may not be a total failing of the actors, as the lines are written stilted as well, with characters alternating between trading quips and feeling forsaken seemingly at random. All of this seems to happen in the span of a few minutes.
Overall, SHE WALKS THE WOODS is a good found footage film that is slightly too long and relies too heavily on inexperienced actors, but if you can peel back that tough bark, the sticky sweet sap of this tree is totally worth it. Actor chemistry, a great locale, bone chilling demon screams and some scream inducing reveals make this worth the time investment.
SHE WALKS THE WOODS is now available on Amazon Prime Video.