From actor Vincent D’Onofrio comes the directorial debut of a journeyman actor that has done virtually everything up to this point. With his first feature, he takes a big leap with an indie rock musical with a hardcore slasher backbone. The film comes off as a strange mix, the beginning shows the band going into the woods for an intense, cell phone-free song writing session in the woods where they can get some real work done. They pass a sign on their way into the woods that is the titular Don’t Go In The Woods, so you know what you’re getting into.
Like David Arquette’s The Tripper, it’s a strange mix of serious drama intermixed with a crazy slasher element, but this film doesn’t have the levity and self-effacing humor that made The Tripper so fun to watch. Instead, we’re treated to a series of indie rock serenades around a camp fire the entire first act it seems, and of course the weekend is disrupted when a band of girls shows up at the camp site, ready to party. Lead song writer Nick (Matt Sbeglia) is peeved by the unannounced party that happens instead of his song writing session, so he ventures off alone to sulk and figure out how to properly motivate his band. When two of the girls leave in a huff, they end up fodder for someone that is lurking in the woods.
The next morning, Nick wakes everyone up in an attempt to get some work done, and they do so reluctantly, where the audience is treated (or tortured) with a few emo indie rock songs from the band. The biggest problem with this film is it takes too long to every get anywhere. Talk of slashers and the Donner Party winks at the situation they’re in, especially after Nick takes an axe to all the cell phones. That lets loose all the classic horror conventions, the girls go unnoticed, the car is dead because the lights were left on, and creepy hunters intimidate the group out in the woods.
Keep in mind, however, that there are Once-style breaks for songs as the characters passionately sing their frustrations to the trees around them while looking pensive. D’Onofrio attempts to connect these scenes to the horror side of things, by making the camera move in a Jason Voorhees-esque manner to show the audience that there is indeed something out there. The problem is, an hour in, you still have absolutely no clue what is supposed to be going on with the horror side of things. In the meantime, the characters aren’t all unlikable clods (only a few) but unfortunately, they never really talk about anything interesting, and while I understand it’s supposed to be a musical hangout movie, it’s boring to hang out if they have nothing interesting to say or do.
Luckily, most of the music is not awful, if you can stand the stuff (I know there are many that can’t). Only one song really misses the mark, with one of the cast members who is obviously not accustomed to singing, but somehow got the job that included a solo. For the most part, the music feels natural to the group we’ve met throughout the film, even if it’s not your particular cup of tea. Finally, in the third act, the horror and music come together in a rather hilarious scene, signaling the arrival of the final stretch of the film.
Ultimately the film becomes two separate pieces that just don’t work as one cohesive story. A few scenes of half-hearted gore don’t make up for the fact that the horror elements were seemingly out of left field until the final 2 minutes, where the whole thing turns out to be predictable after all. There are some cool elements in the film, some decent gore and kill scenes, but beyond that, unless you’re really into emo, there’s not a lot here for you. Hell, even if you’re really into horror films, there are plenty that are better. Interesting, and a bold choice of genres to combine, but in the end, too much of it falls flat, and a good idea doesn’t see good execution. Sadly mediocre.