MURDER IN THE WOOD movie poster | ©2020 Rezinate Pictures/Amor Media/Stadium Media

MURDER IN THE WOOD movie poster | ©2020 Rezinate Pictures/Amor Media/Stadium Media

Rating: R
Stars: Jose Julian, Jeanette Samano, Chelsea Rendon, Catherine Toribio, Kade Wise, Jordan Diambrini, Soledad St. Hillaire, Danny Trejo
Writer: Yelyna De Leon
Director: Luis Iga Garza
Distributor: Rezinate Pictures/Amor Media/Stadium Media
Release Date: August 14, 2020 (theatrical); September 18, 2020 (digital and VOD)

MURDER IN THE WOODS is here for those craving ‘80s-style slasher horror. It begins with a man, obviously already the victim of attempted murder, limping through the forest. He arrives at what appears to be an abandoned cabin. He is pursued by someone armed with a hatchet.

Through all of this, we get ambiguous flashbacks to a child watching something out the cabin window

The next morning, we meet the six college-aged main characters. Quiet Jesse (Jose Julian) lives with his prayerful Nana (Soledad St. Hillaire). Nana wants Jesse to stay home on this, the anniversary of his parents’ deaths, but he thinks he should go away for the weekend.

Birthday girl Chelsea (Chelsea Rendon), the cause for this group celebration, is planning to lose her virginity to suave boyfriend Gabe (Jordan Diambrini). Fernanda (Jeanette Samano) is Chelsea’s more thoughtful cousin. Jule (Kade Wise) is their drug-bearing friend, and bubbly mean girl Celeste (Catherine Toribio) is the date he’s invited along. The group are planning to spend the weekend at the cabin in the woods (a title already taken). Why yes, it’s the same cabin we saw before.

It doesn’t take long to establish that some of our heroes are none too bright. Gabe, who’s driving the SUV, turns to music in the middle of a “this is not a test” emergency broadcast. Celeste goes out of her way to provoke Chelsea. When we start seeing murder in the woods (and in the cabin), nobody but Fernanda takes things seriously for an uncommonly long time.

On the upside, director Luis Iga Garza demonstrates that he knows his way around a jump scare. He also knows how to set atmosphere, with well-composed shots. We may have seen a nervous young woman ascending a lonely staircase a thousand times before, but it’s still suitably creepy here. There’s also an excellent music score, by Izabelle Engman-Bredvik and Gerardo Garcia Jr. The gore is plentiful and effective.

Garza has brought together a mostly Latinx cast, which is uncommon in English-language slasher films. This doesn’t seem to have any effect on the plot or even on many nuances – these could be pretty much any entitled young suburbanites out on an adventure – but it’s good to see the actors get to play characters who aren’t tokens of one kind or another. The young performers are game, and Danny Trejo shows up as an intimidating sheriff.

Given all of that, viewers may not mind the downside, which includes central figures we don’t enjoy spending time with. The guys unironically call each other “bro.” Then there are story elements that contradict each other. The bigger ones can’t be discussed without mighty spoilers. However, there are smaller ones, like Fernanda asserting that she watches a lot of scary movies, and protesting a moment later that she doesn’t want to hear about the Chupacabra and La Llarona, without any attempt to explain this paradox.

There is also the trope of having everybody split up repeatedly, even after they’ve all resolved to stick together, and even when there’s no good reason for them not to all move as a group.  This is traditional for the genre, but that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying.

MURDER IN THE WOODS should satisfy people who want some newly-made but traditional-feeling FRIDAY THE 13THlike fare, complete with youngish folks who are woefully slow on the uptake.

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