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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Backwoods
The Backwoods
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // April 15, 2008
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Cameron McGaughy | posted May 16, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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"There is a war between the rich and poor,
a war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the left and right,
a war between the black and white,
a war between the odd and the even."

- Leonard Cohen, "There Is a War" (1974)

The Movie
Gary Oldman can do no wrong...right? Right?! True, although this 2006 thriller that debuted in France and Spain (as Bosque de sombras) is a highly frustrating viewing experience given all its wasted potential. But hey, at least it's not Nobody's Baby!

Director Koldo Serra co-wrote the film with Jon Sagalá, and it's clear that films like Straw Dogs and Deliverance were heavy influences. Set in 1978, the film begins with two couples making there way through Northern Spain en route to an isolated cabin owned by Paul (Oldman). He is joined by significant other Isabel (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) and married friends Norman (Paddy Considine) and Lucy (Virginie Ledoyen), all taking a vacation from London life.

While making a pit stop at a pub, the foursome quickly stands out among the less affluent townspeople, many of whom aren't too pleased with the visitors. The group soon makes its way deeper into the woods, where we become more aware of their clashing personalities. Lucy has apparently miscarried, perhaps the source of the couple's constant bickering; Paul and Lucy constantly question Norman's masculinity ("There's no point in asking you what to do, is there?"); while Isabel's distaste for country life ("I much prefer civilization!") seems to be just one point of contention for her husband. Paul is the alpha male leader of the pack, a hard-nosed hunter with an appropriate outlook on life: "There are hunters and prey, Norman...that's the only fucking truth in this world."

While on a hunting excursion, Paul and Norman stumble upon an abandoned cabin housing an animalistic, deformed girl. Locked in a room, the duo decides that the apparently abandoned girl needs help, taking her back to their house with the intention of informing the authorities. But when a group of men come knocking on Paul's door--including familiar faces from the bar--their decision comes back to haunt them. Apparently she's the sister of Paco (Lluís Homar), who leads a search party with his brothers--Antonio (Andrés Gertrúdix) and Lechon (Jon Ariño)--and cousin Miguel (Kandido Uranga). Paul keeps his discovery a secret, and when the women are left alone, the film starts to veer into darker territory as a secret rises to the surface.

You'll quickly notice this film's biggest fault: These people don't like each other very much, and it quickly makes you not like them. There's a massive, uncomfortably tense cloud hovering over them from Scene 1, and it's impossible to muster once ounce of sympathy for any of them. While we get small bits of background, none of their characters are developed nearly enough for us to care. All we see is that they're bitter, annoying assholes. The second half of the story builds pretty much to where you expect it to, which left me with a sour "That's all?!" taste in my mouth. Themes of culture clash, miscommunication, gender roles and one's capacity for violence surround the story, which really doesn't do much with them. The film gives you the sense of something grand to come, but never delivers anything new.

Oldman and Considine are both skilled performers, but their characters are written to such extremes, they don't have much to do other than quickly (and not so convincingly) morph into each other. Sánchez-Gijón's character is a forgettable filler role, while Ledoyen plays Lucy a little too harsh (and at times I had trouble understanding some of her lines, her accent sometimes requiring concentration from the listener).

It's a real shame, because Serra and his crew have tons of talent. There's an effective '70s look and feel to the film, and the cinematography of Unax Mendía is absolutely stunning. While my mind had checked out of the story, my eyes were transfixed by the visuals. The camera captures the beautiful settings perfectly, and both Serra and Mendía really know how to compose a shot and move the camera. They take advantage of every part of the widescreen canvas, helping create tension as they give your eyes a sensual smorgasbord. If nothing else, this is a beautiful film to look at--but it could have been so much more.

The DVD

Video:
The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer befits the film's lush visuals. This is a strong effort with great detail and sharpness. While the somber tone of the film is aided by a heavy brown 1970s look, some greens and reds beautifully pop off the screen. I noticed a minor blur problem in the background of one scene, but that's forgivable given the overall strength of this transfer, a great complement to Mendía's work. English and Spanish subtitles are provided (with English subtitles automatically appearing for the parts of the film spoken in Spanish).

Audio:
Equally impressive is the 5.1 track (you can also opt for 2.0 surround). The audio makes you feel like you're in the middle of the woods, whether it's a powerful rainstorm, hunting sounds, the snap of a twig, nighttime crickets, a dog barking, birds chirping, the creak of a cabin door...it's a real treat. As stated above, I sometimes had to concentrate to understand some of Ledoyen's lines, which probably had more to do with her accent than the transfer.

Extras:
Nothing but six trailers for other films.

Final Thoughts:
With Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine leading the way, it's hard to imagine this film being anything less than amazing. But the four central characters in this 1970s-set thriller echoing Straw Dogs and Deliverance are too resentful; it's hard to muster any sympathy for their predicament. And the conclusion doesn't give us anything we haven't seen before. Still, the cinematography and eye-catching visuals are so strong, it's still good enough to Rent It.

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