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Dustin's Review

Capsule Review
Don't Go in the Woods  (2011)
3 Stars
Directed by Vincent D'Onofrio.
Cast: Matt Sbeglia, Casey Smith, Nick Thorp, Soomin Lee, Jorgen Jorgensen, Cassandra Walker, Kate O'Malley, Ali Tobia, Gwynn Galitzer, Bo Boddie, Eric Bogosian.
2011 – 83 minutes
Not Rated: (equivalent of an R for strong bloody violence, language and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 30, 2011.
Horror and musical lovers unite, have I got a movie for you! The semi-homegrown directorial debut of Vincent D'Onofrio, "Don't Go in the Woods" unapologetically borrows wholesale from the slasher genre as it places a five-guy band of burgeoning musicians in the isolated wilderness, tosses in the surprise appearances of their girlfriends, and then lets loose an ax- and mallet-wielding psychopath in a black hat and trench-coat on the whole lot of them. And there's singing. What probably shouldn't work—or, at least, what ought to come off as campy—avoids such pitfalls with a soundtrack, written by co-screenwriter Sam Bisbee, that is alarmingly good. Pop, rock, and catchy, beatific folksy ballads bridge a series of abrupt, gruesome death scenes in a way that has never quite been done before. Trying to think of another film this one compares to is difficult, and probably fruitless. It's surely its own unique entity.

Lead singer Nick Storm (Matt Sbeglia) has one goal in mind when he and his bandmates head into the forest for a weekend getaway: to crank out at least five good original songs that they can then hopefully get a record deal from. While his friends want to have a good time, bringing along weed and booze, Nick disposes of it the second he finds out. Perhaps more irrationally, he destroys all of their cell phones with an ax to ensure singular concentration. Then the girls arrive to mess up his plans. Amazingly, even with a killer hacking through the cast, a bunch of good songs do get made (and performed), blending together the cutthroat worlds of the music industry and serial murder. In a way, they're one and the same if you've got the drive to make it to the top.

The characters in "Don't Go in the Woods" are intentionally archetypes—Ali Tobia is very funny as Melinda, the smart girl who seems to know everything but the killer's whereabouts—but what development they get is ably brought to the surface through the songs they sing before meeting the literal chopping block. Leading the cast of talented unknowns and amateurs is Elijah Wood lookalike Matt Sbeglia, whose Nick is none too happy when girlfriend Ashley (Cassandra Walker) and her gal pals show up to crash the writing session. Sbeglia has the silky, plaintiff voice of a genuine singer-songwriter, while the mysterious nut job out to slay them all has the creepy costume and ability to pop up at a moment's notice necessary to make his mark as a memorable slasher. "Don't Go in the Woods" isn't afraid of humor, but the film is smartly never treated as a joke. The music and tone are too effective and sincere for that. As far as low-budget horror goes, "Don't Go in the Woods" is made in grand spirits and with undeniable know-how. It's conventional and truly one-of-a-kind all at once. There's nothing else out there like it.
© 2011 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman