16th Feb2018

‘Beyond the Woods’ DVD Review

by Philip Rogers

Stars: John Ryan Howard, Mark Lawrence, Ross Mac Mahon, Claire J. Loy, Irene Kelleher, Alan Riordan, Ruth Hayes, Sean McGillicuddy | Written and Directed by Sean Breathnach


Beyond the Woods has a familiar set up, with seven friends deciding to spend a weekend away in a secluded part of the Irish countryside; although this time they have the luxury of a cottage rather than your more traditional cabin in the woods. Unfortunately for them, when they arrive the soon realise that the comforts of their cottage getaway are offset by a fiery sinkhole which has opened up in the mountains nearby. Even though the house has been deemed to be a safe distance away, the sinkhole – which is burning Sulphur at over 800 degrees – is still having an effect, thanks to the powerful odour which is almost unbearable. With a planned weekend of alcohol and smoking weed to get them through, the group remain undeterred by the smell outside and decide to stay regardless. Unfortunately for them, as the smell continues to get stronger, they soon find that this is not all they will need to worry about if they are going to survive the weekend.

Despite a rather slow and tentative start when the group first meet, once they all get settled in the house, the talented cast and natural flowing script starts to provide enough momentum to keep you really engaged. It was a good decision not to replicate the stereotypical teenagers going into the woods, as the maturity of the characters stop them from feeling so cliched when thing start to go wrong. As the film continues the relationships between the group certainly play out differently to how you would expect, with their actions not always reflective of their experience and better judgement.

Beyond the Woods itself is set up like a traditional “cabin in the woods” scenarios and looking at the poster it would be easy to assume that this would be another hack and slash horror. However, anyone going into this film expecting plenty of blood and gore may be disappointed, because writer and director Sean Breathnach takes the film in a very different direction. Deciding to build up a tense atmosphere and focus on character development, rather than relying on the visual blood and gore to entertain the audience.

We do see the creature in the poster  – which does appear quite frequently in the film, and when uncovered on screen the overall look with the makeup was quite impressive. However, with that being said, when you see the capabilities of the creature you can’t help but ask why he is carrying the axe?  Apart from adding to the physical presence of the character to make him look more menacing, unless he is planning to cut up some wood to keep the sink hole burning, for the most part it seems redundant. Admittedly it does get used in the film, although when you reflect back on the events, there seems no benefit to using such a weapon to mutilate his victims.

The film does well creating building the tension, which make the most of the remote location in the woods. But I felt that some of the most effective moments occurred when he does something unexpected. In a particularly memorable scene, Emma’s (Claire J. Loy) reflection begins to move on her own, as she stands there looking at herself in the mirror. Despite seeing something similar in an earlier scene, the sharp execution is excellent and comical notion of the moment works brilliantly against the tense flow of the film. Even managing to lead onto an effective jump scare.

There were good performances from the cast – who seemed to have developed a natural rapport as old friends, which made it more interesting to see how the relationships began to change. John Ryan Howard stood out for me with his performance as Ger, who remained a bit of an outsider from the group as he was the only one to attend on his own after recently splitting up girlfriend. He was certainly a character who you felt for, especially with his lack of direction at times, but it was his chemistry with Irene Kelleher, as Lucy, which made for an interesting turn of events.

Beyond the Woods doesn’t break the boundaries in horror, but with a clever script and good performances from the cast, director Sean Breathnach manages to create an entertaining horror. And the films narrative deliberately leaves questions unanswered and allows the audience an opportunity to create their own conclusions. It may have a few shortfalls, but in the end it doesn’t spoil the enjoyment what is a solid debut feature.

Beyond the Woods is released on DVD on February 19th, courtesy of Left Films.

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