Beyond the Woods (2018) is an Irish supernatural horror. Its tone echoes recent Irish hits such as The Hallow (2015) and The Canal (2014). At it’s simplest, Beyond the Woods is an eerie, gore-free tale of an unknown evil.
Some horror films utilise shock and awe to reveal their horror too early, leaving the audience caring little about the characters. Beyond the Woods develops its characters perfectly; helped by the talent of the actors – they are believable. A scene early in the film, with four of the friends sitting around a table in the garden is great for showcasing the friendship they all have – it’s believable and allows the audience to gain a connection to them. But there is always that one character you just can’t like – he’s written that way and instantly can turn the scenes warm atmosphere icy with tension – and you just root for him to find his demise early on – you’ll know the one.
The film revolves around seven friends meeting up in the Irish countryside for a secluded (aren’t they always?) weekend getaway. As soon as the first couple get out of the car, something doesn’t seem – smell – right. A fiery sinkhole, named “The Gateway to Hell” by one character, has opened up a couple of miles away. It’s burning hot and spewing sulphur…thus explaining the hellish stench in the air. Unwisely, the group decide not to let the atmosphere get to them (aside from the early whining about it) and continue with their weekend. Inevitably, it gets worse…soon hallucinations are abound and an ancient evil starts to take hold.
Starting off with a creaky, moving swing startling Lucy (Irene Kelleher) and odd tracks of dirt left inside, the horror is subtle, making you wonder what exactly is going on. Beyond draws you into the film well, allowing the audience to take the incidents at face value or try to guess what is happening. Is there someone – or something – out there watching, as is suggested by the camera angles from behind trees and bushes?
While many modern films accommodate a fast pace and get to the action quickly, Beyond uses the slow-burn approach to great effect. By not revealing too much, it keeps you watching, wanting to find out more. Why is it happening here? What about the small town referenced in a throw-away comment? Many questions appear unanswered from the film, but that can be a good thing – who wants everything on a silver plate?
Overall, the acting elevates the film and is the main reason to watch. You get a sense of the acting talents within the first few scenes and how natural they are. A questionable antagonistic force (just to what extent can it manipulate the world?) and thin plot, hamper what would be a great horror film. The director (Sean Breathnach) seemingly doesn’t have the answers that we require and much is left to the audience. This is further seen in many of the gore aspects. In the modern day, cutting away at moments of gore can leave the audience feeling short-changed and for whatever reason, when Beyond cuts away, it just misses that certain something.
Playing on the everyday fears such as infidelity, trust, getting lost and home invasion, Beyond does a good job of holding the audience’s attention but does little in the way of scaring the audience. Much of the horror is missing or just expected: a power cut, for example, just doesn’t feel fresh.
Well worth a watch, Beyond the Woods won’t push the genre’s boundaries. But with moments of excellence, such as some witty foreshadowing, it is a comfortable, if predictable horror which should sit proudly on a horror fan’s shelf.
Beyond the Woods is available from February 19th 2018 on DVD
DIRECTOR/WRITER: Sean Breathnach
STARS: John Ryan Howard, Mark Lawrence, Ross Mac Mahon, Claire J. Loy, Irene Kelleher, Ruth Hayes, Sean McGillicuddy
RUNTIME: 1hr 24 mins