Vividly haunted by the nightmares of her childhood, Grace Walker struggles with recouping from the brutal suicidal death of her father that has plagued her into adulthood. Her boyfriend Jim plans a romantic getaway for just the two them in the remote region of the Smokey Mountains. After a horrific accident fatally strikes down Jim, Grace is alone and lost in the thicket without her coping medication and without a basic knowledge of survival skills. Battling with starvation, unequipped with survival supplies, and besieged with a mental breakdown, Grace combats against her inner and outer demons in order to stay alive.
Eight years have passed since writer-director Jeremy Benson’s last film, the carnal exploitive “Live Animals,” and the filmmaker comes back strong with the upcoming deeply psychological horror “Girl in Woods.” While the title seems unoriginally simple, the character Grace is anything but simple; however, primitive is a more suitable description of both title and character in the end. Benson sets up the character by writing Grace as a woodsy no-nothing on the brink of insanity. As Grace hikes behind Jim, whose carrying a rifle, she’s complaining about the possible dangers of bears and snakes while attempting to use her pink incased cellphone in a kill signal area to gossip about Jim’s engagement proposal the night before. Immediately, Benson places an unstable, and the creature of comfort, Grace into panic and peril, the starting line of her laundry list of troubles. From then on, the director relentlessly pounds Grace with hallucinations set within the Tennessee backwoods, torturing her from the mind with mental deterioration stemmed by hunger and onset psychosis to her body with physical pain from a deep gash wound in her hand.
And who is this actress to which Benson mercilessly puts through the meat grinder? Veteran actress Juliet Reeves (“Automaton Transfusion”) fills Grace’s disturbed shoes with a formidable solo performance for much of the duration. The then 36 year old actress was pregnant with her second child during various filming shoots. The father of the child is with none other than her co-star, now husband, Jeremy London (“Alien Opponent”) who portrays Jim. Reeves is able to maintain a convincing lunatic lost in the woods despite the non-liner storyline where dream sequences and, supposedly, flashbacks intercut to build upon Grace’s tragic and unfortunate background. Reeves commits herself to the stages of psychosis, slowly transforming from a manageable, calm medicated state to severely severing all ties from external reality. Even when performing with her angel and devil conscious in the form of herself, Reeves doesn’t flinch, fashioning a frightening internal dynamic that’s damn realistic.
“Girl in Woods” ultimately becomes a collaboration between the subgenres of psychological horror and man versus nature. Benson’s story explores the possibilities of what might happen if a mental case like Grace is put into a dire predicament and the non-linear narrative simultaneously attempts to display how Grace is destined to be molded. Interestingly enough as a tidbit of analytical comparisons, “Girl in Woods” marginally parallels with a few popular scenes from the 1987 John McTiernan film “Predator.” When Mac, played by Bill Duke, chases down the extraterrestrial game hunter, he notes to Carl Weather’s Dillion, whispering, “I see you” toward the cloaked alien, which feels similar to when Grace spots the forest “demon” and chases after it, yelling, “I saw you” over and over. Other scenes sport the same similar inkling from Grace whittling makeshift weapons to going full blown guerilla attack commando on the “demon,” who oddly enough also makes similar vocal gutturals like the Predator.
As far as production value is concerned, “Girl in Woods” has an ambitious approach with a infinitely engulfing forest that lurks like an antagonistic villain and an in-your-face motif of self-inflicted suicides that’s extremely graphic and hard to absorb with the brain-splattering, wrist-slashing overdose potency. The CGI is kept at a minimum, but have one hell of a nasty bite that spurs the heart to a sudden pounding. The practical effects reign supreme over CGI and within the confines of a warped mind, the possibilities are endless and Benson exploits the potentials. Overall, fine performances by the rest of the cast: Jeremy London, John Still (“Live Animals”), Lee Perkins (Slime City Massacre), and the stunning Charisma Carpenter (“Angel” television series) as Grace’s mother.
Produced by GIW in association with Yield Entertainment and distributed by Candy Factory Films, “Girl in Woods” is an upcoming film you don’t want to skip over. Jeremy Benson has the talented eye of capture beauty within the horror and has the talented pen to wield craziness on paper. I’m not at liberty to critique the audio and video quality as I was provided an online screener, but “Girl in Woods” is being released on iTunes, VOD, DirectTV, Cable, Dish, Amazon Instant, Google Play, and Vudu so there are plenty of formats to choose from on June 3rd.