In order to escape modern distractions and bang out new classics, mercurial bandleader Nick (Matt Sbeglia, a lone escapee from the Elijah Wood Cloning Factory who D’Onofrio took in and molded to become a lead in this film) and his fun-loving bandmates trek out into the woods. Their artful pursuit is quickly interrupted with the arrival of girls and girlfriends (oh woe are female roles in an already underwritten slasher film), alcohol and the occasional cellphone that isn’t smashed by Nick in a fit of asinine rage. As Nick stews and then descends on the band, with vengeful, exacting new songs, a killer stalks the campgrounds and slaughters indiscriminately.
It’s disappointing because 'Woods' has promise from the get-go – the location is genuinely creepy and industry regular and first-time DP Michael J. Latino manages to squeeze enough dread out of the bloodless, pale palette. The strongest moments of the film are the band playing together in what feel like half rehearsed, half improvised takes – there’s a better story being told in a scene where the blind guitar player starts picking out a new song and the band find the rhythm and join in. Unfortunately, empty-headed allegory rears its unwelcome head come the third act, when the herd gets thinned out and our patience is at an end. A final scene, featuring the terrific Eric Bogosian as a record exec with two lines, is not “The Devil Inside” cringe-worthy but should invoke inspired jeers.
D’Onofrio certainly can’t be faulted for trying something different – but is that his debut film’s only accolade? Aside from a few soulful tunes, “Don’t Go In The Woods” barely delivers the scares and a third act reveal functions as a cheap trick at best. It’s a poisonous marriage of genres that hits a sour note all too frequently, an apathetic horror film and a lethargic musical. [C-]