aka Promenons-nous dans les bois
directed by: Lionel Delplanque
France. A group compiled of five pretty young actors, two male and three female, is hired by a rich guy to perform a stage version of “Red Riding Hood” at his son’s birthday for very good money.
First, they are very enthusiastic about the unexpected offer, but soon they question their decision to agree, as from the beginning on, the whole affair reveals to be a mighty strange one and is only getting progressively weirder.
Their client, the wheel-chair bound millionaire Axel de Fersen, resides in a vast picturesque Château which is placed in the middle of a dark forest and whose rooms are stuffed with creepy stuffed animals and decadent showpieces with a colonial touch. De Fersen (François Berléand) himself is a prime example for an unbearably self-absorbed and detached rich eccentric whose fellow humans are subjected to his constant mood swings. His only company are his creepy housekeeper Stéphane (Denis Lavant), who is also responsible for the taxidermies and his disturbed young son Nicolas (Thibault Truffert), who is resting in an almost catatonic state that is occasionally interrupted by sudden emotional outbursts.
The troupe performs their odd version of “Little Red Riding Hood” -amped up with slightly sexualized costumes and not one, but two Red Riding hoods – with a bored Axel and a dead-eyed Nicolas as their sole audience. The following birthday party for Nicolas finds an abrupt end when the boy suddenly sticks a fork into his hand. And the weirdness doesn’t end here, but enters morbid territory when a police inspector turns up and informs them that a murderous madman is out in the near woods preying for victims and urges them to stay inside the Château. It’s too late already though, as the killer has made his way inside and starts offing one by one.
Deep in the Woods might be either a predecessor to, an early representative of or an Amuse Gueule to what is clumsily titled “New French Extremity”, the wave of extreme French horror movies that spilled over the borders into our hearts during the last decade.
A few similarities with movies like High Tension or Inside can be attested, mainly on a stylistic level, but what is missing is a deeper running ambition to break taboos or push any boundaries in terms of storytelling or themes (although it does have a few nasty bits). In fact, one could boil down Deep in the Woods to just being a more sophisticated and mildly eccentric Slasher movie, but depending on your taste, you can also read this as a recommendation.
And it is said style that makes it so memorable and watchable. This is a very good-looking movie indeed, visually very polished. Unlike in the works of the most famous French directors Luc Besson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet we are not bombarded with quirky visual shenanigans though, but instead the elegant, elegiac camerawork rather relies on clear compositions that make great use of light and shadow to awe the audience. Thereby a subtly surreal atmosphere is conjured which supports the fairy-tale aspects of the story. Admittedly most of this Grimm Brothers subtext and the aforementioned formal artsyness doesn’t really amount to more than added aesthetic value if you take a closer look, but as a proponent of aestheticism I don’t mind that, as long as it remains playful and doesn’t drag the movie down with pompous symbolism – which it fortunately doesn’t.
Among the actors, Berléand clearly steals the show with his performance as the unbearable De Fersen. Being stuck in a place with a crazy and deeply unsympathetic person is a social situation that is pure horror in real life, but sure as hell a lot of fun to observe in movies. If the face of Denis Lavant who plays the suspicious Stephané strikes you as familiar, then you might remember him from his acting tour de force in Leos Carax’ Holy Motors (2012) or his unforgettable appearance as a bum in the music video for UNKLE’s “Rabbit in the headlight” from 1998.
When it comes to the demands of the Slasher formula, the movie fulfils its promise regarding the obligatory bloodshed and nudity, the latter of which is handled in a surprisingly natural way, probably due to the more open-minded French attitude.
Deep in the Woods might not revolutionize the Slasher, but it offers an original and entertaining perspective on this particular subgenre that looks trés chic to boot.
You want more European slasher goodness? Then read my review of the Italian 80s gem Delirium.