Supernatural Daytime Horror Brightwood (PANIC) Investigates the Horrors of Relationships
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Dane Elcar
Writer: Dane Elcar
Runtime: 84 Minutes
Starring: Dana Berger, Max Woertendyke
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Panic Film Festival in 2023.
Have you ever gotten into a rut with your partner? Sometimes things feel flat, small issues add up to bigger issues, and passive aggressiveness takes hold. It can almost feel like you two are running a never-ending circle.
That describes Dan (Max Woertendyke) and Jen (Dana Berger) perfectly. While out for a jog trying in their own ways to dance around the topics that are eating at them, the couple find themselves unable to break free from the woods surrounding a mysterious pond outside their neighborhood. No matter how many times they re-trace their steps, they can’t seem to find their way out. Their initial annoyance turns to worry when they discover that they may not be alone out there.
Lean, supernatural horror Brightwood offers engaging meditations on the way relationships run its course.
Time loop horror films are always a fun treat, but Brightwood manages to tweak the formula just enough to make it something special. Wasting no time establishing the stakes, Brightwood thrusts the audience into the horror straightaway. A brisk morning jog becomes a fight for survival as Jen and Dan race to figure a way out of their predicament. What separates Brightwood from similar films is its delightfully sinister approach to the concept. Jen and Dan are put through the ringer and the answers don’t come as easily as they do for other protagonists in similar circumstances. The air of hopelessness juxtaposed with the sunshine-drenched greenery makes for one wicked case of dissonance.
An extended metaphor for the circuitous nature of mis-matched relationships, Brightwood makes good on its supernatural promises while keeping its real story grounded. Relationships run their course [pun thoroughly intended] more often than people like to admit. From the beginning, Dan and Jen have unaddressed issues that they are dying to process. Many things come in the way of this honest conversation. Thus, the two spend the film running around in circles from each other, from their present, past, and future. All iterations of the couple look similar enough, but each make different choices. Their choices reveal their character and desires alongside their will to survive, with or without each other. Brightwood balances the realistic and the sentimental with its narrative choices to still pack a punch in the end.
The nature of the tension in Brightwood works entirely due to the commitment to its peculiar premise. Focusing on the mystery of their situation and the gradual escalation of tactics to leave, Brightwood turns a simple premise into a nightmare scenario. The decision to keep the entirety of the film in daylight increases the uniqueness of the film, and its situation, while also staying true to its vision of a fixed time loop. While the scenario itself is scary, the breakdown of the different versions of Jen and Dan and the way they choose to interact with each other and problem-solve the situation are scarier. If you are on bad footing with the only other person, you should theoretically trust when the chips are down, what comes next? Brightwood answers this question repeatedly with satisfying results.
Perhaps the rockiest aspect of this indie feature comes in the form of its characterization and performances. Dana Berger and Max Woertendyke do their best to bring Jen and Dan to life in convincing ways, but sometimes both the script and their approach to the characters make it messy. Since each iteration of the couple is essentially a different set of people, it makes sense that they would behave differently. Throughout the film, however, their differences only feel minor as the performances largely stay the same. Both Berge and Woertendyke fail to sell the quirks and larger emotions of the characters, often resorting to erratic yelling or babbling in response to the circumstances that have befallen them. Most of the pressure points show when the duo are together, and thankfully that isn’t too often to drag the film down too much.
An enjoyable tense jaunt down a deceptively bright path to supernatural horror, Brightwood sufficiently spins its unique take on supernatural horror. Employing a variety of disarming tactics to catch the viewer off guard, Brightwood is a spunky little indie horror that is as innovative as it is fun. Its story might get convoluted at times and the leads can be grating, but overall, it is a fine supernatural horror film with plenty of rewatch value. There’s no need to run in circles anymore, just put Brightwood in your watchlist and wait patiently for it to arrive to streaming services hopefully soon!
Overall Score? 6/10