Film Review: Stranger in the Woods
Writer and lead actress Holly Kenney leaves audiences with something deeper and more relevant to think about than Psycho’s “we all go a little mad sometimes” speech. Though the premise of encountering a psychopath in the woods is well-trod territory, Kenney and director Adam Newacheck leave us thinking more about the victim than the abuser.
The heroine Olivia, played by Holly Kenney, and five friends head out to a lakeside cabin hosted by a strange, socially inept Brandon played by Radek Antczak. From the taxidermy displayed in the cabin to some of Brandon’s Norman Bates-like relationship to women, there appears to be direct nods to Hitchcock’s work whether intentional or not.
Unlike Hitchcock, however, Newacheck highlights the female experience over the male. Ultimately, this is not a story glorifying the psychopath, it’s a story about vindicating the victim, the female, the character who gets written out of Psycho before an hour in.
It’s refreshing to root for Kenney proving her sanity over a killer trying to get away with murder. One cannot help but think it has something to do with allowing a female to write the script.
Moreover, the psycho turns out to be much more startling than any Norman Bates, and who to trust becomes a key theme. In a woman’s world, trust is not always found in obvious places. In fact, even for Olivia, her good friend Theresa played by Paris Nicole holds skepticism over Olivia’s sanity; the men around her - Sam (Brendon Brown), Liam (Devon Stewart), and Clayton (T.A. Spencer) - eye her as transactional, incapable of true autonomy, or even just crazy.
The film feels very economic with a small cast, limited locations, and practical stunts. It’s a good reminder that compelling character dilemmas can go a long way without all the spectacle. The action is still exciting and Travis Prow’s cinematography adds to the suspense. The score created a subtle ominous feel without being overpowering.
The performances were compelling, though there were a few character choices that felt like they lacked motivation. For example, it was hard to believe that folks would still be able to have a good time if someone’s dog was missing on a trip as happens in a key plot point of this movie. Even with such suspensions of disbelief the narrative still grappled attention, and it all came together as a nuanced female-led thriller.
Stranger in the Woods Trailer