Directed by Vincent D’Onofrio
Even as a aficionado of both horror movies and rock music, it’s hard to decide what is more painful to watch: genre clichÃ©s rehashed in the worst and most obvious ways possible, or the pained sincerity of a singer-songwriter’s facial expressions while performing. Unfortunately, it was only this quandary that I had to distract me while watching Don’t Go In the Woods, actor Vincent D’Onofrio’s directorial debut about a group of musicians who venture into the wilderness only to find themselves terrorized by a mysterious, sledgehammer-wielding killer. Sincerely one of the worst films I have ever seen and by far my worst movie-going experience of 2010, D’Onofrio’s debut is a clumsy, interminable parade of misused and abused tropes that feels excruciating as a sincere combination of horror movies and musicals as it does as a benefit-of-the-doubt, tongue-in-cheek genre mash-up.
Matt Sbeglia plays Nick, the lead singer of an aspiring rock group who brings his bandmates to the woods in order to record what he hopes will become their breakthrough demo. Upon their arrival, he confiscates all of their cell phones, and otherwise forbids them to make any effort to contact the outside world, much less do anything except focus on writing and recording songs. But when his sometime girlfriend shows up with several of her pals to interrupt their brainstorming session, Nick’s plans quickly deteriorate. But when a mysterious, masked figure starts killing members of the camping party with a sledgehammer, the band is forced to decide whether they want to make it in the music business, or just make it through the weekend alive.
With the exception of a complete absence of pointless nudity, I’m fairly sure there’s not a single horror clichÃ© that isn’t employed in the service of setting up the characters’ untimely deaths. Not only are all phones confiscated and literally destroyed, but the band mates (and later, their female counterparts) make virtually every bad decision characters can when entering unfamiliar territory, including ignoring a giant sign that specifically instructs them, “DON’T GO IN THE WOODS.”
The bigger problem, however, is that there’s only maybe one half-likeable character among the entire ensemble, and the rest aren’t even interesting enough to want to see die. Nick in particular is a self-righteous, entirely unsympathetic asshole, but all of the band members each manage to offend even the most forgiving viewer. Their collective stupidity is purely infuriating, and the fact that D’Onofrio and screenwriters Sam Bisbee and Joe Vinciguerra devote almost two-thirds of its running time to watching them sing, argue and carouse does little to inspire any other feeling than exasperation by the time the killer gets around to disposing of them.
Meanwhile, the composition of the film’s story completely fails to alert or classify the film as a musical until almost 30 minutes into its running time, and each subsequent instance where a character breaks into song feels less believable, more tedious and more laughable than the last. (The audience with which I watched the film reacted with increasing impatience and disbelief every time.) Moreover, it feels like there are 30 songs in the movie, especially since at a certain point it becomes clear that every single one of these douchebags is going to get their own number, and only about three or four of them are tolerable as real songs, much less the melodramatic stuff of more conventional musicals. By comparison, Repo: The Genetic Opera feels like a mainstream, top-40-ready triumph, and Sweeney Todd (which I genuinely liked) feels like Citizen Kane.
Again, however, the dilemma remains what’s more insufferable – horrible clichÃ©s or the earnestness of a musician who think he’s pouring out his heart via some shitty, equally-cliched alternative rock song. Truth be told, Don’t Go In the Woods is like a perfect storm of awfulness, which is perhaps all the more surprising given the fact that Vincent D’Onofrio is a justifiably respected character actor who at the very least seems to know how to deliver a compelling performance. Sadly, he clearly does not apparently know how to elicit one from someone else, nor to tell a story that makes sense, or shoot it in a way that is at least remotely interesting. In which case, a more appropriate title for the film is Don’t Go In the Theater, because when and if this film eventually plays in your neck of the woods, sitting down to watch it feels equal to a fate worse than death.