Raine McCormack’s film début The Village in the Woods is a bit Wicker Man, a bit The Ritual, with a smattering of Hot Fuzz sprinkled on for added measure. Slow to start and requiring a bit of commitment on the part of the viewer for the first thirty minutes or so, it evolves into a disquieting little slice of cinematic creepiness.
Rebecca (Beth Park) and Jason (Robert Vernon) arrive at the remote and seemingly near-perpetually fog-bound village of Coppers Cross (using a map that genuinely looks like it should have an X drawn on it to mark the location of the buried gold) to take up ownership of the run down pub “The Harbour Inn”. On arrival they find the locals welcoming and friendly… perhaps a little too welcoming and friendly.
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There is immediately something slightly off-putting about how friendly they are, always smiling, always happy to help. Always there. Always watching. Always. With Rebecca and Jason both carrying secrets of their own, a crotchety, knife-wielding old man as an unwanted house-guest, and neighbours seemingly intent on inserting themselves into every aspect of their lives, how will the pair cope with their new lives in this strange little village? Spoiler alert – (not really, otherwise this would be a very, very boring movie) – badly!
Hats off to the cast here. Charles (Richard Hope), Maddy (Therese Bradley), Jenny (Katie Alexander Thom) and the rest are downright eerie. A little too interested, a little overly solicitous, faces seemingly curved into permanent smiles that start to become genuinely uncomfortable to watch as events grow more menacing, and in fact just make it all the more disturbing. Especially Vince (Timothy Harker). That dude is CREEPY. In fact the only time their joviality fades is whenever they have to address the issue of Arthur, the antisocial other resident of the Harbour Inn who seems to be the fly in the village’s otherwise perfect ointment.
The film does a great job of making the atmosphere feel oppressive and threatening at all times, our main characters instantly singled out as something that does not belong, every smile giving the impression that it’s hiding a mouth filled with shark-like teeth, every interaction laden with additional meaning, like the villagers knew everything about them from the get-go.
Raine McCormack wore a lot of hats for this one, directing, writing, editing, producing, creating the soundtrack and the sound design. Luckily he did leave some jobs for other people: according to the credits he didn’t do any of the makeup!
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Also, speaking of the soundtrack, a solid effort here. There are very few cheap jump scares (other than the bit with the door swinging open that mysteriously sounds like someone screaming), and the actual musical score works well within the film.
Raine McCormack appears to be one of those annoyingly talented people who were at the head of the queue for talents while the rest of us were in the bathroom. For his first feature-length film with what would appear to be a fairly restricted budget, this is a damn good effort. There are some nice practical make-up effects, limited use of VFX (which is far less egregious and obvious than that seen in the recently reviewed Hell House LLC 3), and a solid cast that draw you into the story in the same way that Jason and Rebecca are drawn to the village. A director to look out for.
The Village in the Woods is available on digital download from 14th October.