(A.k.a. THE DEVIL COMPLEX; THE DEVIL WITHIN)
Aw, here we go ... opening white text on a black background: "Three filmmakers entered the Hoia Baciu forest, Romania on the 29th November 2012. They are still considered missing".
Cut to shaky handheld camerawork as two people run frantically through the woods at night.
"The following footage" the ensuing text assures us "was discovered amongst the possessions of professor Howard Redman on the 15th February 2014 in London, England. Three days after the professor had taken his own life".
Next we meet Howard (Tom Bonington) as he speaks into the camera video-diary-style, introducing himself as a former lecturer in the field of "mythological studies". He's on screen to introduce "what remains of the footage of Rachel Kasza and her team filmed on the day they died" - Rachel being a former student of his who'd travelled out to Romania to explore the aforementioned forest as part of her thesis.
Howard explains that upon discovering his student and her assistants were missing, he went out to Romania in search of them. All he found was their footage, which has clearly disturbed him ever since.
And so, we cut to that "unedited footage" which strives to show us the fate that befell Rachel (Maria Simona Arsu) and her cohorts as they ventured into what is reputedly the most haunted forest on Earth.
The footage begins at the start of Rachel's quest in Romania. She meets up with hired cameraman Joe (Marius Dan Munteanu) and surly sound engineer Tom (Patrick Sebastian Negrean). The boys seem to be there for a lark about but Rachel is taking her assignment very seriously right from the off.
Before long the trio have made their way to a nearby village where Joe films Rachel as she attempts to interview the locals about the Hoia Baciu forest. The general consensus seems to be that the place is evil and only a fool would step foot in it. Spooky stories abound - ghostly sightings, people going missing etc - as if to back such theories up.
Of course, there wouldn't be much of a tale to tell if Rachel, Joe and Tom took heed of the locals' advice. Even earnest young Romanian professor Popescu (Adrian Carlugeo) can't dissuade them with stories of having interviewed troubled survivors of the forest: "if you go into the forest with darkness in your heart, your inner demons will manifest themselves, and you will be judged and punished" he warns.
Still, against all this sound advice, Rachel and co enlist the help of bearded local guide Dogaru (Bill Hutchens) - rumoured to have beaten his wife to death before dumping her body in the forest - and off they go on their ill-fated travels.
Jesus. This is bad.
I mean, let's look at the good points first. It's great that the film was actually shot on location in the Romanian town of Cluj-Napoca, meaning the nearby Hoia Baciu forest was almost certainly used for real. The wintry compositions - all snow-swept landscapes and glistening tree branches - are aesthetically pleasing.
But that's it.
To counteract those positives, we have a thinly disguised riff on THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, purporting - just like every other mimic from the last two decades - to be based on a true story. It takes a long time going nowhere, the pace crippled by four central characters who share no chemistry whatsoever. None of them are likeable either: Rachel's petulant, Tom's boisterous, Joe's a whiner and Dogaru is severely lacking in the presence I imagine his character is supposed to have. When the group first meet the latter he responds to Tom's handshake gesture by spitting three times into Tom's hand. If this is meant to shock us, then why does it only elicit titters? This matter isn't helped any by Tom's reaction: "Why'd you spit on me? That's just rude".
Despite an initially no-nonsense beginning, this 79-minute flick then drags as soon as it reaches the forest - the point where you'd imagine it to liven up if anything. The "scares" do eventually come, but they're all hackneyed: if you've seen only one found-footage film, you have still seen enough to anticipate everything that THE DEVIL'S FOREST holds in store for you. The group gets lost in the woods; there are lots of annoying raised voices bickering at one another; what was that strange noise in the dark?; Holy shit, did you just catch a glimpse of something resembling an evil kid?; let's bicker some more; let's shake the camera ridiculously to obscure the most panicked moments; has the camera got enough battery...?
You know the drill, I know you do.
Boring, uninspired, badly acted (kudos to the European cast for performing in English, but the results are mixed at best) and never once scary, THE DEVIL'S FOREST brings nothing at all to the over-saturated found-footage sub-genre. Nothing. Really.
The film is presented uncut on MVD Visual's region-free DVD, in its original 1.78:1 ratio. The picture is anamorphically enhanced. Colours are accurate, images are sharp and blacks hold up admirably. Obviously, as is the case with found-footage flicks, the image quality intentionally dips here and there - unbelievably, this being well into the 21st Century, we're still led to expect static noise on occasion.
English 2.0 stereo audio is fine throughout.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. There is no scene-selection option but the film does have 9 chapter-stops.
Only one extra is featured here: the film's original trailer. It's a 107-second affair which does a fair job of making the film look as boring as it is.
There's obviously a market for found-footage horror films out there, as filmmakers keep churning them out with alarming frequency. But even fans will be hard-pushed to find anything worth recommending about this one.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by MVD Visual|