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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dead Wood
Dead Wood
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // July 7, 2009
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Justin Felix | posted September 6, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The Tagline:

4 FRIENDS. 1 STRANGER. NO HOPE.

The Movie:

In my tenure here at DVD Talk, I've reviewed quite a number of genre releases from Lionsgate. One of the things I appreciate about this distributor is its near-clockwork release pattern of low-budget and international fright films. Sure, some of them are bad, like The Evil Woods, or even loathsome, like Dungeon Girl. But many of them turn out to be at least watchable - and some, like Artifacts, damn well surprise. The best part about these movies is that, aside from a couple exceptions, they aren't SyFy Channel cookie cutter creature feature nonsense.

Recently, Lionsgate has been diving into the international waters again for some low budgeted horror fare from merry olde England like Cravings and this curiosity, Dead Wood. Despite its faults - and admittedly, there are a number of faults - Dead Wood managed to entertain the scary movie fan in me, and Lionsgate should be credited for dusting off this British project and giving it a surprisingly strong armament of extras (more on these later in the review).

Dead Wood opens with a familiar horror movie set-up: a quartet of young people, two couples, decide to go out in the middle of nowhere for some camping. Yes, it's a scenario descended from countless other films like The Evil Woods, Wrong Turn, The Evil Dead, etc. etc. However, the premise is filmed rather nicely here, with an effective jump scare involving the protagonists' run-in with a deer and some well-framed shots of the titular woods and its native animals. In fact, for a little while, Dead Wood feels like it's part-documentary.

After a night of partying and awkward romancing, the foursome awaken to find a stranger cooking food outside their tents. She's cold and tired, and she claims her boyfriend is missing in the woods. Conveniently, the cell phones get no reception - so everyone agrees to help this mysterious woman find her beau.

And this is where the film takes a misstep. Apparently, everyone decides that the best way to accomplish this is to go skinnydipping in a nearby lake. Yep, character actions don't make a lot of sense in the second third of the movie.

Without spoiling the movie too much, things do not go well for these five characters. However, the evil they face isn't the stereotypical slasher fare we've come to expect from movies like these. Dead Wood turns out to have a much more supernatural flavor to it, and though the movie borrows from The Blair Witch Project in its execution, the ambient sounds and frenzied flashlighted nighttime hokum are still effective. Dead Wood also utilizes several basic but well-performed folk songs in its score (shades of The Wicker Man - the original, mind you, not the dreadful Nicolas Cage remake). Plus, the movie's resolution offers some surprises and a really, really good and unexpected jump scare.

Unfortunately, Dead Wood suffers from a low budget. This movie could have been much better had it had more money for competent CG special effects work (the CG shots vary between middling and pathetic), and a better cast of actors. Still, several scares are to be had here, and I'll commend filmmaking trio David Bryant, Sebastian Smith, and Richard Stiles for taking a familiar premise into different territories. Dead Wood is by no means a great film, but I'll go with a mild recommendation for the horror-goers.

The DVD

Video:

Lionsgate gives Dead Wood an anamorphic widescreen presentation with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. I was disappointed with the video quality here. The image just seemed fuzzy throughout, lacking detail and strong colors. I suspect that it's a result of the film's obvious low budget and production values. Still, the video seemed appropriate, in a Blair Witch Project sort of way, for the movie's narrative.

Sound:

The sole audio track fares better than the video quality. It's an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 affair. The dialogue is always clear, and the ambient forest sounds encapsulate the viewer.

Optional subtitles are available in English and French.

Extras:

Trailers for Necessary Evil, Retribution Road, Never Surrender, and Legend of the Bog as well as an ad for the website Break.com precede the main menu. They're accessible collectively under a Previews link in a Special Features sub-menu, as is an additional trailer for Dead Wood itself.

Lionsgate, surprisingly, loads up the disc with a number of movie-specific extras:

First up is a feature-length commentary track with co-directors, co-writers, and co-producers David Bryant, Sebastian Smith, and Richard Stiles. A random sampling suggests the participants are talkative and provide a lot of background on the film's making.

Next up are the Deleted Scenes (7:33) that include optional commentary from the filmmakers. Mainly these scenes give background on the major characters and they do seem superfluous. Outtakes (2:45) are also included - without a commentary option.

Finally, the Special Effects Comparisons (4:04) are a nice idea, too bad the effects work was hardly special.

Final Thoughts:

Dead Wood, a British import provided by Lionsgate here in the States, has a near equal number of strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, it takes a familiar fright flick premise and gives it a creative twist. The movie also has some nice establishing shots and utilizes its forested setting to create an eerie mood successfully. On the minus side, it's very low-budgeted (and shows), riffs a bit too much on established horror movies of the past, and has some gaudy CG effects work. Considering Lionsgate packed this release with a lot of extras, I'm giving Dead Wood a mild recommendation for the horror crowd.

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