The Backwoods – DVD Review

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In the summer of 1978, two English couples head off into the forests of Spain to spend their holiday. At the head is Paul, whose family home is where the four will be staying, and who is all to eager to soak up nature and begin hunting again. Following his lead is Paul’s wife, Paul’s business partner Norman, and Norman’s wife. After being sized up by the locals in the town’s pub, the group finally makes it to the house and begins setting up the gear.

At first light the next morning, Paul and Norman head off for their first hunting expedition. But on their way home, they discover what appears to be an abandoned house. However, inside is a little girl who has been locked inside a room. Paul and Norman bring the child back to their house, and devise a plan to get her into police custody. When the locals show up at the door, armed with shotguns and looking for the child, Paul makes a risky move by joining their party to look for her, and instructs Norman to sneak the child off to the police. But will Paul’s diversion give his friend enough time to make it through the forest undetected, or are the locals already well aware of where the girl really is?

Lets get the obvious out of the way. Spanish director Koldo Serra’s English language debut owes more than its share of debt to both Deliverance and Straw Dogs for blazing the way in early seventies cinema with their hunter-becomes-the-hunted motifs and usage of violence as a means of defining characters. The forest setting, as well as the claustrophobic feeling that the walls of the secluded house provide, also draw deeply from the well of John Boorman and Sam Peckinpah. But through these eerie similarities, Serra is able to find a unique voice of his own using his lifelong knowledge of the area the film takes place in.

Serra, along with co-writer Jon Sagala, lets the film heat up with a slow burning tension and unease which is lit with an early sequence in which the four main protagonists stop at the town’s small bar for a drink. There, the locals begin to make snide comments about the outsiders, only to be put in their place when Paul snaps back in fluent Spanish. This scene sets up the character relations for the entire movie, as Paul takes charge, Norman shows he is out of his element, Norman’s wife Lucy provides sexual energy, and Paul’s wife Isabel tries to stay invisible. The locals, on the other hand, are already seething with a mob mentality and ready to pounce on any who dare intrude on their territory.

As the film progresses, Serra introduces an increasingly disturbing aura of potential violence to the story. When the locals show up at the door, armed with double-barrel shotguns and wearing ammo belts, Serra uses a single static shot of the locals that is truly a vision of terror and a bleak warning that before the day is over, people will die. In one of the more revolting scenes of the film, two locals force their way into the cabin, and make themselves “at home” with the two women while Paul and Norman are out. This forced power play of oppositions culminates in a tense rain-soaked standoff between local and outsider that is straight out of a spaghetti western.

This central theme of outsider versus local is mostly used as a character study of Paul, which Gary Oldman brings to the screen with a mesmerizing intensity. Oldman, who speaks fluent Spanish during much of the film, finds himself distinctly in the gray area of this debate, as he longs to be a local, but does not understand that he will never truly be accepted. Because of this desire, he begins to ostracize he true friends, thus making him even an outsider to them. No one can unravel or standoff against an adversary quite like Oldman, and here he shows off the best of these performances. Paddy Considine, as Norman, provides an equally impressive performance, as he is attempts to taste the power of confidence and decision making which he has watched he boss exude for so long.

In The Backwoods, Serra covers his scenes with a thick fog, making clarity of vision a very difficult thing to come by. This literal fog seeps into the minds of both groups, who each make a fatal judgment of the situation, and misunderstand the other group’s goodhearted intensions. Upon initial viewing, that fog may even extend to the viewer, who may see this as nothing more than an uninspired ripoff. But take a closer look and you’ll discover a heartfelt movie that, like many other films coming out now, is the director’s way of personally thanking the movies that inspired them.

The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with an anamorphic widescreen transfer, and includes the soundtrack in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Stereo. English and Spanish subtitles are also provided.

None. Zilch. Nada.

Come discover why it is not just guns, but simply the ease of misunderstanding a situation, that makes man the most dangerous game.


Lionsgate presents The Backwoods. Directed by Koldo Serra. Starring Gary Oldman, Paddy Considine, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Virginie Ledoyen. Written by Koldo Serra and Jon Sagalá. Running time: 97 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: April 15, 2008. Available at