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Thursday, 30 August 2012

HIDDEN IN THE WOODS / EN LAS AFUERAS DE LA CIUDAD (2012) // Director: Patricio Valladares // LONDON FRIGHTFEST European Premiere // "One of the most authentically deranged human movie monsters since Karloff did Frankenstein . ."


This film was a Grimm-like, blood-soaked, wicked woodland fairy tale; a horror/crime story with a big nasty injection of black-charred, cackled humour. It's no surprise Hollywood has already snapped up a remake from the original director (currently in development).

HIDDEN IN THE WOODS earned a long round of applause at its FrightFest 2012 screening. And a healthy amount of genuine outrage. It's a cross between Lucky McKee's The Woman (with more vengeance), Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (with more ultra-violence and blood), and Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn (sadly without the vampires - but we do get a cannibal instead!). It featured lush and vibrant cinematography of rural Chilean locations and a pounding country/blues-rock score mixed in with gorgeous, atmospheric piano and appropriately synthy gloom from the film's composers: Maximiliano Soublette, Daniel Persson, Rodrigo Huepe and Patricio Valladares himself! Ominous sound effects also punctuated the unsettling action, in the best Lynchian tradition.

All the men here are pathetic scumbags: ruthless drug dealers preying on the weak.  They easily earn the right to be a deliciously mutilated focus of payback at the hands (and bared teeth) of two feisty sisters: Ana and Anny (played  with sultry wide-eyed lunacy by Siboney Lo and Carolina Escobar). The girls have been kept captive since birth by their brutal father who is himself a man at the mercy of the local drug baron that he works for (a suave and ultra-violent type of bad guy who, in the film's blood-splattered climax, comes looking for all the family - and the missing stash of drugs).

This criminal mastermind is called Uncle Costelo, and is played with relish and realistic cruelty by Francois Soto. Costelo is out to ruin further the lives of this desperate family (lives already tainted and ruined from within). He is a man with a suitably evil, snowy white, twirly beard (if a beard can be evil - then Costelo's fits the profile) as well as an impeccable white suit and a luxury villa where he keeps his own two young daughters in comfort and wealth (as compared to the lives of the doomed family we follow).

Uncle Costelo is after Ana and Anny's dad, who has betrayed him - big time.  But the chased man is hardly someone we can root for: he allowed Costelo to rape his own wife and daughters just to keep him happy and get more work (horrifically, we also get to witness a hint of what the dad has been doing to his own daughters as well - starting off with scenes featuring the girls when they were much younger, and thankfully not shown in any detail). It's harrowing stuff, for sure. Few directors have portrayed familial horror quite so relentlessly (or shown it to be quite as unforgiving and without any hint of redemption) as Patricio Valladares does here.

Unflinching rape scenes shown in the movie were the cause of some controversy at FrightFest (understandably - they are, even to hardened horror fans, genuinely upsetting to watch). But these scenes are brief , brutal (or dark and hidden) and shot with frenzy; there's no voyeuristic lingering. I felt they had purpose within the plot to create this monstrous father figure; demonising him to the extent that the eventual revenge and payback felt all the more sweet.

But they were hard scenes to get through all the same, and while less sanitised than other more salacious cinematic versions of the same awful crime, this raw harshness works in creating a sense of realistic evil that transcends the film reel (and includes members of the cast who have an almost unreal/ anti-fictional presence on screen) in much the same way THE EXORCIST (1973) made many assume the filmmakers had summoned real demons, MARTYRS (2008) made cinematic pain literally unbearable and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) blurred lines between fake outrage and the real and made horror almost unwatchable (or something to feel bad about watching and, horror of all horrors - enjoying?).

MARTYRS (Before it gets really nasty . .)

The remake of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (2010) shown at FrightFest just a few years previously, had to have a rape scene edited (to meet BBFC approval) mainly to sexualised nudity (violence mixed with anything interpreted as actual sexuality or eroticism is a no-go for British censors). Here's what the BBFC said about the cuts required to that film:

Company was required to make a total of seventeen cuts during three separate scenes of sexual violence in order to remove potentially harmful material (in this case, shots of nudity that tend to eroticise sexual violence and shots of humiliation that tend to endorse sexual violence by encouraging viewer complicity in sexual humiliation and rape). Cuts made in accordance with BBFC Guidelines and policy.

[from Required cuts - "I Spit On Your Grave" / 2010 ..] 

It could be argued that this editing subsequently negated the shock value of the scene itself: toning down a portrayal of rape is almost a way to reduce the shock and sanitise what we see. By necessity, in such harrowing portrayals, it can be argued that the audience needs to feel some revulsion and shock: this effect Valladares certainly achieves. And that, perhaps, is the difference between his film and countless others that portray an act of rape with more exploitative, casual tones and the reason why there was no instruction to cut the scenes in HIDDEN IN THE WOODS pre-screening.

There have been subsequent cuts to a German release of HIDDEN IN THE WOODS, but no reported snipping for the FrightFest screening. Sexual violence in this film is only ever portrayed as deadening, demeaning - and awful. Those who carry out the crimes are depraved, desperate and without  any moral compass: these are characters we are unable to identify with in any way. Real evil was never so determinedly exposed as it is here.

Cleverly, although we have little identification with any of the cast, we do seem to veer more towards the murderous, vengeful sisters and their need for some kind of justice, even if essentially, their characterisation is kept fairly cold and distant; they don't suddenly turn humorous, thank goodness, or worse - get better. This is a production line of brutality which they have become a part of; it's not salvation.

The cruel father (and a fairy tale figure of sorts) in HIDDEN IN THE WOODS is the monster. All hairy of body and thick of muscle, he is the undisputed 'ogre under the bridge' and his two pretty daughters are the ones 'trip, trip, tripping' their footprints on the bridge above him. This man is the beast that could burrow out of soil with his bare hands. And he is played by Daniel Antivilo: one of the most authentically deranged human movie monsters since Karloff did Frankenstein.

Regarding accusations of misogyny from some critics towards the film, I can only report back that the usherette I sat next to (I was on the aisle seat, she was perched on the stairs . . at least I hope she was an usherette, and not a thing more sinister) munched sweets and chuckled throughout the screening (actually, I'm beginning to think she was definitely something more sinister now!).

I wasn't so relaxed, but I can see her point: some scenes were so over the top they were clearly shot with a cruel smile at their bloody extravagance from a director who is a self-confessed collector of old VHS horror movies and the so-called video nasties of old.

Valladares also clearly has fun playing the role of a geeky doomed camper boy in the film. It's a role that nicely references that most famous woodland horror of all: the original FRIDAY THE 13th (1980). Even the villainous, sweaty dad in HIDDEN IN THE WOODS, sometimes shot hysterically and through a fisheye lens, resembles the classic poster art from another video nasty classic: ISLAND OF DEATH (1976).

SPOT THE DIRECTOR! (Valladares, left)


There was a question from a female festival-goer at the Q&A after the movie to the director that started with a comment about how much she loved the film and especially dug the bloody violent ending! (Most of the cast of HIDDEN IN THE WOODS are left writhing on a slick of their own blood on a tiled floor by the end, after a luxury villa shootout at point blank range; it's the conclusion of a ravishing Mexican standoff and clearly reminiscent of Tarantino's classic bloodletting in 1992's RESERVOIR DOGS.

I had to point out just now that the person making these comments was a female member of the audience, mainly because of her next comment (which, if spoken by a man, there'd be a new round of moral outrage over!) that she also found the film quite sexy. Cue: even more nervous tittering from the audience!

Is the film sexy? Well, the scene between one of the daughters and the man in the motel room was a rare moment of fairly consensual, if desperate and orchestrated, steaminess for sure. The two shotgun-wielding sisters also ooze an undeniable, if quite stylised, sexuality (as well as sheer strength) when chasing through the woodland in their cut-off shorts: those poor sweaty henchmen of the local drug baron not knowing what was about to hit them between the legs!

There is a notable eroticism outside of the violent encounters (although no encounter ends especially well - maybe only for the daughters; in terms of revenge) that is often quite striking and defiantly seedy. A woman is shown bathing naked in front of a sunlit window as two young men out camping in the woods peer through the murky frame - expect trouble to follow! And the film has a heady, overpowering and glisteningly sweaty vibe that is, alongside an often thundering soundtrack, quite overwhelming at times - a potent mix.

Although women are often portrayed in this film as victims (even one of the police officers falls foul of the male beast) it's also equally clear that it's men who are the real victims here: victims of corruption; of greed; of violence; of revenge. They are, from the start, the most fucked. It would be interesting to have a variation on this scenario from Valladares, where roles are reversed, in the same way that Eli Roth swapped dumb young male victims and older male torturers in HOSTEL (2005) for dumb young female victims (more traditional a horror mix than the first film's scenario?) and a twist: a central female (Bathoresque) villain in the far superior, but still almost as brutal - HOSTEL: PART II (2007).


HIDDEN IN THE WOODS is genuinely unnerving, critic-baiting, cinematic gunfire. It's vibrant, hip, and very bloody: a gun-toting, great-Grimm fairy tale of a gangster movie caked in thick red horror icing. It will, I am sure, result in even more head-swirling films from its young director - Patricio Valladares, in the years ahead. Remember this name. This man, despite all the playfulness, is deadly serious about what he does. A heartfelt and unpredictable directing talent, Valladares exudes an almost geeky charisma and a terrific fanboy playfulness with genre that is deeply infectious.

HIDDEN IN THE WOODS will be remade by Valladares in 2014 with actor Michael (Aliens/ The Abyss) Biehn (a supporter of the original and of the director's work) starring and executive producing. The story behind the original film is inspired by true events, we are told at the FrightFest Q&A, and also had financial support from the Chilean government - who may not have been initially aware of the film's more extreme content, Patricio admits rather wryly! The director already has a history of fairly brutal cinematic offerings, including the grisly CURRICULUM (2006) and an even more hard-blasting, ribcage-busting, riot of a movie: the brutal life and bad times of cold-hearted assassin TORO LOCO (2011).

Valladares hinted future films will be more crime or thriller, less horror. HIDDEN IN THE WOODS falls within the horror category to an extent because the crimes, involving chainsaws and the like, are so outrageously bloody (as in the aforementioned ISLAND OF DEATH which was also essentially a crime movie with brutal, bloody horror framing). There is a horror staple included by Valladares, of  a feral cannibal brother kept locked up by Dad and released by the sisters - but his film is rarely as focused on this sub-plot as it is on the plight of the two sisters and the fate of the father.

Whatever genre you wish to pick for HIDDEN IN THE WOODS, it remains kick-ass cinema that could flatten the unwary with a sledgehammer to the cranium. Your reaction will be revulsion or shock, but this is a film almost verging on a genre all to itself. It's often unclassifiable. And that's what a FrightFest film should be like, and should do to an audience. It's not pretty (except in the sun-drenched, rural cinematography) but as shock cinema, with heart, and a whole lot of passion for genre filmmaking - it's perfect.

Words: Mark Gordon Palmer

'HIDDEN IN THE WOODS' Pics © Vallastudio Films  




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