Despite its frustratingly vague storyline, WOODLAND GREY is an unsettling slow burn, driven by a powerful cast performance and striking cinematography.
Canadian indie horror WOODLAND GREY is an unsettling slow-burn whose flame threatens to go out at any minute. It follows suspicious forest dweller, William (Ryan Blakely), as he stumbles upon the unconscious Emily (Jenny Raven) and attempts to nurse her back to health. Unfortunately, his bedside manner is sufficiently lacking, and Emily stumbles upon a rather disturbing find of her own.
While Adam Reider and Jesse Toufexis have certainly created a uniquely unpredictable storyline, WOODLAND GREY spirals into circularity all too quickly. We find our characters are getting nowhere time and time again, and it becomes surreal and grotesque simply for the sake of being so and in a way that never quite pays off for the audience. We are left wishing that the pieces would fall into place as they continue to land as hopelessly disconnected as they were in the beginning.
Jenny Raven and Ryan Blakely do a fantastic job of carrying the strenuous story and bringing an incredible intensity and realism to their roles despite the outlandish horror their characters face. They build the tension onscreen expertly, bringing it to its peak and letting it crash over us in thrilling waves.
Graham Guertin Santerre’s cinematography is truly striking; and combines beautiful woodland imagery with classic horror elements to create a horrific folktale montage. The tension, paired with masterful horror imagery and scene-setting, creates some grimacingly graphic and distinctively sinister dream sequences without bordering on unwatchable gore. The film’s overall aesthetic is thrillingly sinister, combined with Daniele Carretta’s eerie original score. It is a shame that the storyline could not carry this through.
However, what the story does offer is a powerful metaphor for grief. Both characters enter the forest to escape the memories of those they have lost, only to find that grief will follow you wherever you go. This likely would have been driven home more impactfully for the audience had it followed a more satisfying conclusion; however, it is powerful and unique as a premise.
The most striking scene – Emily finding her grandfather dead – is perhaps more befitting of a drama. The shot focuses solely on the exterior of the house, keeping the moment private for the character and yet somehow managing to communicate the depths of her feelings without ever even showing us her face. Here, nothing is lost in translation, and if the film could have kept this momentum, depth, and clarity of communication throughout, perhaps it would not have fallen so short.
Overall, WOODLAND GREY is frustratingly vague in its storyline, and although it seems to pick up the pace at its midpoint, it quickly tapers off into circular confusion. It would have benefitted from more concise storytelling that drives our characters forward.
However, its message remains worthwhile, and its approach to horror is unquestionably unique. By presenting us with sympathetic characters thrown together by circumstance, no longer are they little more than the audience’s vessel into the world of horror, but people that feel altogether too real.
Megan Hyland is a full-time domestic abuse charity worker; part-time entertainment reviewer; and professional over-achiever. Currently one of ten writers chosen for Northern Broadsides’ Young Writers Forge, you can read more of her review writing at UpstagedManchester, The Custard TV and her blog The Manchester Maverick.