Thursday, February 9, 2023

‘She Came from the Woods’ Review – The ’80s Slasher Returns With a Nostalgic Trip Back to Camp

If you didn’t know Erik Bloomquist’s She Came from the Woods loves the 80s like Pac-Man loves Mrs. Pac-Man, the first few minutes should sell a tubular on-screen time warp. Hormonal camp counselors in short shorts prepare for summer’s end while Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America” blares over opening credits like any other Camp Crystal Lake or Camp Arawak copycat. Bloomquist imbues a love of 80s sleepaway horror titles into a contemporary take on Friday the 13th, The Burning, Madman — some titles are even name-dropped in dialogue. It’s hardly a modern satire like Cabin in the Woods but avoids feeling redundant through recreations of golden-age genre magic that’s gone out of style. There’s a passionate attempt to prove life can find new ways in a decade’s old slasher formula, and She Came from the Woods keeps the beat(ings) alive for now.

Camp Briarbrook is a family-run recreational retreat for children headed by patriarch Gilbert McCalister (William Sadler). Another season passes (goodbye class of ‘87), and counselors — including Gilbert’s grandson Peter (Spencer List) — prepare for another debaucherous end-of-year bash. Young adults with questionable decision-making skills take to the beach for a night of drinking and hopeful hookups, but not without honoring camp tradition. Peter hands out needles so everyone can prick their fingers as a blood offering to local urban legend Agatha Good — once Briarbrook’s nurse in the 40s — as a bit of dumb ghost story excitement because, duh, Agatha can’t be real.

Well, you’re reading Bloody Disgusting. You know where this goes, right?

Bloomquist and his brother Carson lean heavily into tropes made famous by 80s horror mainstays, choosing era authenticity over all else. That’s not necessarily bad — stoner pizza guys and foolish secrets that doom younger generations swaddle like a warm nostalgia blanket. She Came from the Woods bubbles with adoration, and that’s important because so much feels comfortably torn from behind 80s VHS tracking fuzz. It’s not exactly an airtight narrative, but neither are countless favorites remastered seventeen times over by different boutique physical media distributors.

She Came from the Woods plays better than comparable throwback indies because Bloomquist fine-tunes technical elements that other filmmakers value lower than splattery gore. Production design sells a quaint woodland hideaway in Briarbrook — and witchy hideouts strung with dangling blood jars — that cinematographer Mike Magilnick captures in glowy sunkissed frames like odes to summertime bliss. Actors keep pace with one another as rivals, comrades, and fighters against supernatural dangers, from Clare Foley as Peter’s lovebird on the final girl track to Adam Weppler, playing resident overage scumbag with ease. She Came from the Woods is a competent solid-bones slice of woodland horror that gets the important stuff right and eventually steals our hearts by sticking with the hits.

Although, Bloomquist tends to lean a bit hard on blatant influences and is sometimes hampered by budgetary restrictions. As Agatha returns from the grave — with creepy as heck demon makeup when finally glimpsed in full view — children become her minions, and the tone can veer too goofy. What screams for the bite of Cooties lands much softer, throwing any balance of horror and comedy out of sync. There are snippets where Cara Buono — playing Peter’s mother — feels lifeless alongside more animated costars, and overall storytelling serves singular moments over a more cohesive survival story that shows as well as it tells. Bloomquist endures these lower points under the guise of 80s influences that once worked with the same means or worse, milking every ounce of goodwill from our fondest subgenre memories.

All things considered, She Came from the Woods is a humble lil’ indie that goes blow for blow with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia and wins. Erik Bloomquist transports us back to simpler genre times when all you needed were dopy counselors, a wicked witch severing tongues, and cursed underworld lore to make all the death seem somewhat sensical. Veteran presences like William Sadler and Michael Park help exposition go down a bit smoother, while the younger actors — shout out to drama coach and charismatic starburst Dan Leahy — embody their character stereotypes like pros. Even as a warmup act to the heavy hitters worshiped by slasher fans since the dawn of internet forums, She Came from the Woods stands its ground as an example of how no subgenre is dead with the proper approach.

The post ‘She Came from the Woods’ Review – The ’80s Slasher Returns With a Nostalgic Trip Back to Camp appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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