Deep in the Woods (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

(Complete spoilers)

Deep in the Woods is essentially a French director's tribute to the Italian Giallo sub-genre, slasher films which use high style and an offbeat artistic presentation of semi-graphic murders.

No question about it, this film nailed the style portion of the requirements. You know the drill. Spooky close up of a bird's eye, followed by a cut to the bird's POV as he flies. Mysterious minor characters who linger too long fondling their knives. Haunted children. A dark, spooky, isolated location. Rooms full of stuffed animals and/or dolls that seem to be staring at the innocents.

You know, the usual Argento crap.

I have nothing against this style. In fact, I think it can be very involving in the best work of Argento and Brian de Palma and others, but no amount of art design and dazzling visual invention can cover up an incoherent plot, or a lack of tension and character development. In order to make a scary mystery movie work, one must do the following:

  • make the audience care whether the victims are murdered
  • keep the narrative and the behavior of the characters logical, or at least plausible
  • provide some scares
  • have the explanation make sense, or at least allow the audience to understand what the explanation is

Without those elements, all the style in the world is not sufficient to make an interesting movie, and this film fails across the board in those areas, and throws in some bad acting, and ludicrous dialogue to boot. Not to mention pretension! It's one of those movies where one person delivers a line, then the director switches to the face of the next character to speak, but that character does not actually say anything for some time, then responds with something only vaguely related. Then there is another long pause until the first speaker says, "You never answered my question". Then there is yet another long pause while the second speaker completely refuses to answer, but just does some insouciant gestures with a cigarette or something.

You know, the usual French crap.

The premise is fairly simple. A troupe of young actors has been invited to a lavish castle deep in the woods to provide an entertainment for a young boy's birthday party. They will perform The Big Bad Wolf. As for the birthday boy, the li'l nipper has not spoken or smiled since the day he saw his mother killed, or some such malarkey, and he basically just stares straight ahead at all times. He's like a ten year old entered into a Robert Stack impersonating contest. The little rascal does pop in from time to time in the oddest, most unexpected places, just to stare at the actors ...

Say, maybe he is the killer ...

Or maybe the killer is the creepy gamekeeper. Or the owner of the castle. Oh, wait, the owner can't be the killer. He's the first victim, and is in a wheelchair to boot. Or is all that a trick?

Or maybe the killer is the guy who says he's a cop, but looks like a homeless man. A heavily armed homeless man.

Well, somebody is the killer, because the young actors start to get killed. And the killer is wearing the Big Bad Wolf costume! And not only is there a killer, but somewhere out there in the woods, the cops are looking for a rapist as well.

I guess you might assume that the killer and the rapist are the same maniac, or you might assume they are two different menaces. I wasn't clear on this point at all. The actors clearly think they are two different people, because the surviving actors were blaming one another for the murders rather than assuming it was the work of a local, but the rapes had been occurring long before the actors arrived, so if the murderer was one of them, the rapist had to be someone else. But since the actors are wrong about the murderer being one of their own, perhaps they are also wrong about the murderer and the rapist being two different people. Or maybe the writer is just not capable of rational thought. Beats me. Maybe I'm not capable of rational thought. That would explain a lot!

At one point the incredibly creepy cop, who makes Lieutenant Columbo seem to be as dapper as Yves St Laurent, comes in to say that the rapist has just struck again, not far from the castle, and that the kids should stay inside. In the very next scene, they are outside, walking through a particularly impenetrable portion of the woods - and splitting up to travel alone or in pairs instead of staying together. Was that scene transition supposed to be funny? It seems as if those two scenes came from two different movies, or were edited together in the wrong order.

Later, when the killer was unmasked, I didn't know whether he was the wheelchair guy, or the wheelchair guy's twin brother, or what.  I say this because:

  • The gameskeeper, who had been with Mr. Wheelchair for years, seemed to think that his boss really needed that wheelchair. Given that fact, if the owner was the murderer, he had been pretending to be crippled for years, just waiting to invite some unsuspecting actors to the castle for a good slaughter some day. Man, that is one dedicated maniac.
  • Before the unmasking, we think the owner is dead. That's because we saw him killed - from the murderer's POV! In that scene, he was saying stuff like "please, don't hurt me". He was not putting on a show or feigning his death for the benefit of the actors, because nobody could hear what he was saying in that scene except the owner, his assailant, and us.
  • When he is unmasked, the killer refers to the castle's owner in the third person. "Poor, stupid Axel"

So I guess the murderer had to be the castle owner's evil twin, because if it was the castle owner himself, then who the hell was he talking to when he was begging for his own life in the earlier scene?

But they never actually said it was a twin, the credits do not indicate a dual role for the man who played Axel, and I think the two surviving members of the acting troupe seemed to think that the man who confessed to them was the owner himself, simply referring to himself in the third person as an example of his psychological dissociation. But maybe the actors were just plain wrong again, as they were when they suspected that the murderer must be one of their own troupe. After all, they did not see the scene where the castle's owner was begging for his own life, so they have no reason to doubt that he simply faked his own murder. On the other hand, we in the audience did see that scene, and have every reason to think his murder was real.


Clotilde Courau shows everything in good light, in a daytime sex scene.

Maud Buquet does a brief, steamed-up full frontal while coming from the shower.

DVD info from Amazon

It is a fairly good DVD. Good anamorphic transfer, plus

  • a full-screen pan 'n scan version

  • French or English sound

  • French or English subtitles

  • a full-length audio commentary track in English

  • a small stills gallery

In other words, I still don't know who the hell the murderer is; I don't know why he committed the murders; and I didn't care when the three actors were killed, because they were complete douchebags to begin with.

So a dazzling clone of Dario Argento's style added up to absolutely nothing because of an illogical and incoherent script filled with unsympathetic victims.

Net result of a stylistically brilliant film: an abysmal 3.6 rating at IMDb.

There must be a lesson in there somewhere for you youngsters. Something about priorities.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviewers covered this film.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. The genre reviewers generally found this to be an interesting exercise in high Giallo style. More mainstream reviewers generally panned it.

The People Vote ...

  • It went nowhere in a brief trial run in the USA, failing to gross even $100,000. It did gross about $5 million in France.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. On the basis of plot and characterization this film would score much lower, and it is also a French movie with incredibly amateurish English dubbing. But it has to be a C-, because some dazzling style and art direction, as well as full frontal nudity, make it work for some fans of Giallo films, especially for those who love Dario Argento's work. Some of the genre reviewers loved this film!

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