The Forest Never Forgets in Psychological Horror Woodland Grey (PANIC)
Title: Woodland Grey
First Non-Festival Release: February 15, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Adam Reider
Writer: Adam Reider, Jesse Toufexis
Runtime: 91 Minutes
Starring: Jenny Raven, Ryan Blakely, Chelsea Goldwater
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 2022.
William (Ryan Blakely) has been living alone in the woods for as long as he can remember when he stumbles upon the unconscious body of Emily (Jenny Raven). After a series of misadventures on a solo hiking trip initiated after the sudden passing of her grandfather, Emily finds herself accepting William’s help to get her back on her feet and into town. Before the deal can be actualized, Emily discovers something sinister behind William’s trailer home that changes everything and sets off a series of events that will test both of their will and minds.
Woodland Grey mixes a nice morality tale with solid psychological scares and intrigue.
A dark character study on the effects of unresolved grief, Woodland Grey lives and dies by its characters. Both leading characters are infinitely frustrating in their journey of fleeing the forest. Their lack of communication and refusal to face their situation ends up making things more difficult for them both. Given the deeper themes of guilt, loss, and acceptance, this makes sense in this context. Grief can make people act and think differently than what might be expected. Those in search of a straightforward film may find themselves disappointed in the lack of answers offered on the mechanics of the woods.
In developing its metaphor for loss, Woodland Grey shows how grief has captured the protagonists long before the forest did. Both Emily and William become trapped by their own grief and spiral relentlessly. Kept alive in a purgatory state and doomed to confront the worst parts of themselves until they get it, their only hope for survival is facing the truth. This is made clear at the end when William understands what he must do to break the cycle. Throughout Woodland Grey both Emily and William keep their pain largely to themselves and refuse to move past their respective losses. It is not until William finally learns to accept his demons is he able to make true progress in the woods.
Plodding psychological horror boils over in the end to some nightmarish visuals. Lush forest scenery and memorable set pieces allow for Woodland Grey to elevate its confined setting to something more dynamic. The costuming of the little girl that tortures William adds to the uncanny nature of the film. Visuals of an innocent looking girl donning a decaying rabbit mask while poking a man with large sticks certainly comes out of left field for a mostly standard psychological horror film. The production values are clearly there and the team behind the aesthetics know how to nail mysterious and eerie.
While it is overall an engaging film, it doesn’t quite reach its full potential. Some rough patches in the leads performances make it difficult to stay invested. This is especially true when the leads are tasked with portraying difficult or heavy emotions. It doesn’t help that most of the film is William and Emily bickering with each other. Along with the performances, the dialogue feels stilted at times, especially what is written for Emily.
Competently made and well-filmed, Woodland Grey works as a serviceable psychological horror film despite its familiar setup. Strong writing in character work elevates the film beyond its recycled plot in a manner that ends up feeling satisfying and complete. There isn’t much here that you haven’t seen before, but Woodland Grey does so with sharp imagery and loud characters. Its musings on grief and death are not novel but still offer plenty of interesting moments throughout the film. Personally, it took me awhile to warm up to the chilly indie venture but once I did I found myself enjoying it for was it is. If you are aching for something different, it’s best to avoid taking this journey; however, if the comfort of timeless stories is more your speed, Woodland Grey makes for a nice trip in the woods.
Overall Score? 6/10