The Haunting of Black Wood (2011) DVD Review

haunting-of-black-wood_uk-dvd-coverThe Haunting of Black Wood (2011) AKA Enter Nowhere

Director: Jack Heller

Written by: Shawn Christensen, Jason Dolan

Starring: Katherine Waterson, Scott Eastwood, Sara Paxton

Run time: 90 mins

UK DVD Release Feb 2nd 2015 from Metrodome Distribution.

Following separate car troubles, three strangers become stranded in a woodland cabin, as they try to figure out how to get back to civilisation they realise not everything is as it appears.

It seems odd that I’m reviewing The Haunting of Black Wood for UK Horror Scene when in actual fact the film isn’t really a horror at all, more a psychological thriller, with a few supernatural elements chucked in for good measure, that’s not to say it’s a bad film though, I actually found myself enjoying it quite a lot.

A little bit of background on the film; it was actually released in the US a few years ago and has only just found it’s way to our green and pleasant land. Over there the film is titled ‘Enter Nowhere’. Now I don’t know the specific reason for the title change (there isn’t any haunting of any kind in the film) but I suspect it’s so the film will appeal more to the low-budget horror market, which as far as I know, is booming over here right now. The new title is misleading and I’m telling you this now as it did slightly mar my enjoyment of the film, I felt as if I’d been cheated in some way and I don’t want the same to happen to you.

Haunting of Black Wood Image 1Anyway let’s move on to the film itself. There’s a lot to enjoy here, the premise is highly original (at least to me anyway, it has probably been done before) it plays out a lot like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. The film is slow paced but this only adds to the building mystery and tension. The twist/s are pretty well judged and never seem forced, every time I thought I had the story figured out something happened that completely derailed my theory.

There are some instances of beautiful cinematography, the opening is a particular highlight and seems to be a very clear homage to the films of Quentin Tarantino. There are welcome nods to other films as well throughout the film the writers and director clearly like to wear their influences on their sleeves.

Not all is good though; there is some terribly clunky dialogue and corny lines. It belittles the acting performances, with a better script I feel the actors could have done a better job but sadly this is not the case.

The soundtrack is very generic; you hear this type of “foreboding” score on hundreds of straight-to-DVD horror films and it never stood out for me.

Haunting of Black Wood Image 2The visual effects towards the end are awful, almost laughable, the film decides to go for spectacle and it just doesn’t work on such a low budget, a more subdued ending would have worked just as well.

Despite it’s shortcomings I found myself still liking the film, it has a certain low-budget charm to it and if nothing else it held my attention. I urge people to give it a chance, just don’t expect any horror.

7/10

The Innkeepers (2011) DVD Review

Amaray Wrap.EPSThe Innkeepers (2011)

Directed by: Ti West
Written by: Ti West
Starring: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly Mc Gillis
101 mins.

A spooky old hotel is going out of business so, on their final weekend working together, two colleagues seize their final opportunity to establish whether the place is actually haunted.

Considering how popular haunted house flicks have become over the past few years – mostly thanks to one James Wan – it’s surprising that Ti West’s rather good 2011 effort, The Innkeepers, passed most of us by without so much as a ‘boo’. Pitching bored employees Claire (a wonderful Sara Paxton) and Luke (nerdy yet likeable Pat Healy), Clerks-style, on their last weekend in a soon-to-be-shut-forever, creepy local hotel, the film both utilises and ridicules well-established haunted house clichés. At times, it’s wonderfully tongue in cheek – when we first meet her, Claire is spooked by an online screamer, before laughing uncontrollably about how stupid it is.

innkeepers4As is fast becoming West’s signature style, the score swells and camera looms accordingly, but just when a jump scare seems to be coming, nothing happens. Then, once we’re comfortable again, the frights really begin. It’s a formula that works quite well here, mostly thanks to the incredible surroundings of the real-life Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is practically oozing with spooky ambience. In less capable hands, the sometimes-clunky script (penned by West, also) would eliminate any scare potential, but the charismatic leads elevate it by inhabiting their characters completely, and making their easy, comfortable dynamic wholly believable.

Most of their time is spent shooting the shit, working on a website chronicling the many captured creepy moments at the hotel, and stalking the corridors for proof the place is haunted, but their plight is utterly involving and it’s difficult not to root for them as an odd couple considering how entranced Luke seems to be with his colleague. Filmed on location in Connecticut, with most of the action taking place entirely inside the confines of the Inn, what sets The Innkeepers apart from others of its ilk, such as Insidious Parts 1 and 2 in particular, is that it feels genuinely old-fashioned, creaky and atmospheric.

innkeepers2Where Wan’s characters often seem out of place, like they’ve been dropped onto a spooky film set – the inclusion of high-tech gadgets does nothing to add to the ambience, either – West establishes his story in the modern day, with smart characters, in a creepy place. The Yankee Pedlar Inn never once feels like a set, and thankfully there is no need for rolling dry ice to create any atmosphere as the creaky décor, and bone-shaking silence is enough to cause shivers. Fully immersive to the point of being inescapably frightening, the film plays on the fear of the unknown in spite of the fact that its protagonists are believers themselves. Unlike West’s previous outing, The House Of The Devil, which took about a year to get going, The Innkeepers establishes its atmosphere early on, successfully building the tension minute by minute until an excruciating finale sequence in a basement, during which everything is thrown at us at once, ghost train style.

innkeepers5In fact, it is, to an extent, a bit of a ghost train experience, in much the same way Hammer’s big screen outing for The Woman In Black was. Crucially, though, unlike that film, The Innkeepers presents its ghouls as real, three-dimensional presences, as opposed to dodgy CG blurs. They aren’t glimpsed as they shift past the characters, they stand and move and appear and make their presence known. Jeff Grace’s wonderfully spooky score chugs along underneath everything, without the need for shrieking violins to alert us to when the scares are coming. West keeps his protagonists in the corners of the frame, so the audience is constantly forced to look behind them at what might be lurking – at one point this is played for laughs, as one character sneaks up on the other at the most inopportune moment.

Paxton is becoming something of a scream queen in her own right, having starred in Shark Night and The Last House On The Left remake. It’s refreshing, then, to see her given a character with real depth to play here, instead of the usual damsel in distress. Claire is far braver than her male colleague, and she gets to investigate more because she dares to delve further into the darkness. Although Healy’s Luke is the one with all the background knowledge, and the equipment, when things get too real, he splits – particularly after an incredibly effective sequence, which shows absolutely nothing and is completely terrifying as a result. Typically, these kinds of flicks show too much, to their detriment, but we never get to hear what Luke is hearing on his headphones and for much of the film, the scariest thing Claire spots is a piano playing a note by itself, or a door closing behind her.

innkeepers3The various ghosts of the Inn are frightening, but it’s to West’s credit that they’re not really needed given how well the atmosphere is established and how the building features as a ghoul in its own right. It’s a refreshing change, given the influx of screamer-style bullshit lately, and the film’s old-timey sensibilities suit the wonderful location, and the story itself, very well. Throwing modern protagonists in the mix with much more weathered spirits doesn’t always work well – especially when it involves the use of gas masks – but The Innkeepers is charmingly old school, utilising an almost unbelievably perfect, real location, along with a biting, self-referential wit to balance itself out.

Rating: 9/10