Beyond the Woods

Somewhere in Ireland in a wonderful old stone farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a group of longtime friends gather for the weekend. At this point, given the sheer number of horror movies I've seen if I ever received an invitation to an isolated house for any reason I'd turn into a raving conspiracy theorist warning everyone to stay away, but this is why I'll never be in a horror flick. In this case, the house has been owned for at least a couple of generations by the hostess' family rather than being recently inherited from an unknown relative or purchased for a suspiciously low price, so I suppose I can forgive them thinking they'll be safe.

Marissa (Ruth Hayes) and her husband Jason (Seán McGillicuddy) are the hosts, looking forward to seeing everyone. Guest Ger (John Ryan Howard) is just trying to get over his recent breakup with his girlfriend, who was meant to come along on this trip. Lucy (Irene Kelleher) is hoping that being away from easy net and phone access for a weekend will get her husband Ray (Mark Lawrence) to pay attention to her for a change. And Emma (Claire Loy) and Shane (Ross Mac Mahon) seem to be hoping for lots of drinking and other slightly debauched entertainments. There's one obvious catch, however -- recently a large sinkhole has opened up a couple of miles away and the stench from the newly-opened pit is getting everywhere. Jerry tries to get someone to come along for a walk and everyone else looks at him like he's suddenly sprouted antlers.

Ger's walk, however, turns out to be one of the first signs that something is seriously wrong. Not only does he get completely lost and turned around remarkably quickly, he also loses track of time -- not too unusual in a strange woods, granted, but he's deeply shaken by the experience. Also, Roy is nowhere to be found, having left a note saying that he's driven off in search of some cell reception, and general tensions in the house are high. There's something in the air, Ger insists, and he doesn't mean the sulfurous stink.

There are more tangible dangers as well, like the mysterious, misshapen figure lurking about the house, not to mention the fact that the ground might literally vanish beneath them at any moment. So they've got plenty of distractions, and I can't really blame them for not realizing the true depths of their situation, if you'll pardon the pun, until it's too late. Unfortunately the mysterious, misshapen figure isn't all that convincing as a deadly creature. It's quite a good drama before the horror gets going, though, and might have worked better as a character study -- they're already in a tense situation without anything supernatural, and being cooped up together might have brought out a different sort of terror.

It's very well-acted and the dialogue is solid, however, so while the mixture of psychological and slasher horror is an experiment that doesn't entirely succeed in this case, it's still a good, creepy film with some excellent atmosphere (aside from the smell, of course). One thing is certain, though -- no vacation near a place that's been nicknamed "The Gates of Hell" is going to turn out well.

Ger looks at the Holy Well signpost. Hint: There's nothing holy here.


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