(original title: W LESIE DZIS NIE ZASNIE NIKT)
A sun-kissed prologue shows a grizzled postman (Miroslaw Zbrojewicz) approach a remote countryside cottage. He posts a letter and then turns to depart - only to be distracted by a noise coming from the cellar door on the side of the house. Upon further investigation he becomes convinced that someone is trapped in there and determines to help. Alas, whatever's lurking in the dark of the cellar is not friendly and our postman is soon no more.
Then we cut to a caption reading "30 years later". This brings us to the present day, where a bus drives through the lusciously green Polish countryside. Arriving at its destination, a summer camp, the site keeper (Bartlomiej Kotschedoff) orders its teenaged passengers off the bus, advising them to hand over all electronic devices as they pass.
Among this motley bunch are overweight film geek Julek (Michael Lupa), wisecracking, antagonistic Bartek (Stanislaw Cywka), hot bimbo Aniela (Wiktoria Gasiewska), muscular airhead Daniel (Sebastian Dela) and knife-wielding, Goth-flavoured introvert Zosia (Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz).
The kids are then rounded up and given a formal introduction to their new home from Camp Adrenaline's excitable manager (Wojciech Mecwaldowski). "Why are you here?" he barks at the kids. "Because you're addicted to your smartphones and laptops!". I doubt any of them take him too seriously, such is his ill-advised decision to dress like a scout leader. He's flanked by his more military-looking deputy, the stern-faced Iza (Gabriela Muskala).
"You'll learn new skills, you'll rediscover yourselves" the manager continues, promising these kids that their time at camp will purge them of all their technological dependencies. The teens remain decidedly apathetic to his enthusiasm. At least they have the evening to settle in to camp, acclimatise to one another and get over any Instagram withdrawal symptoms.
The following morning the manager splits his guests into groups so that they can embark on separate tasks. Would you believe it, the five kids mentioned above in the third paragraph are all grouped together ... with Iza as their team leader. Iza tells her new team that they're going on a three-day hike into the hills where the wilderness will become their friend. And without further ado, away they go.
Meanwhile, not so far away, we become aware that whatever has been lurking in that cellar for three decades has just escaped, having killed its jailor, carer and feeder of many years ...
A little into their walk, Julek leaves the group temporarily to take a piss. Looking down, he realises he's peeing onto a deer's carcass. He calls the rest of the group to come and take a look. Upon close inspection, Iza confirms that something large and carnivorous had attacked it. Julek grimly informs the group that "fifteen thousand people go missing in Poland every year - a third of them in the woods". With that cheery thought in mind, Iza encourages the team keep moving, and yet leads them deeper into the forest.
At the end of a very long day, the group set up camp and eventually get to unwind round a campfire. Iza takes this opportunity to begin asking each member why their parents have sent them to Camp Adrenaline. For Julek, for example, it's so he can beat his addiction to online gaming. Iza then moves on to Zosia, but swiftly ditches the conversation upon skimming over the quiet girl's personal file. Zosia is clearly haunted by her traumatic past (all is revealed later). So instead, Iza cuts her counselling session short and encourages everyone to turn in for the night.
During the night, Daniel sneaks down to the nearby riverbank for a sly smoke. He's joined shortly after by Aniela who's followed him there. Establishing that he's a virgin, she offers to be his "teacher" for the evening and they have sex. Teenagers having sex in a horror film? Well, that always ends well - doesn't it?
Afterwards, Aniela heads back to camp while Daniel stays back a while to peruse the mobile 'phone he sneaked into camp. But Daniel is not alone ...
The following morning Iza wakes the group, but of course Daniel's nowhere to be seen. Upon confessing to having seen him down near the river the previous evening, Aniela leads the group to where she last saw Daniel. He's no longer there ... but Zosia spies blood on a nearby tree. Iza suggests that the group split up (!): she proposes going to look for Daniel with Zosia and Julek, while Bartek and Aniela remain at camp.
Raking through the forest, Iza and co eventually stumble upon a cottage and decide to call in, in the hope that whoever lives there may have seen Daniel. Of course, we recognise this cottage as being the one from the ominous prologue. Naturally, they find the cellar ... and decide to explore it. No sooner that they're down there, the hulking brute of a monster-man who previously resided in there for many a year returns home. This spells trouble.
And what's worse than one oversized, mutated beast roaming the woods with a first for human blood? Well, one with a twin brother - of course!
NOBODY SLEEPS IN THE WOODS TONIGHT joins a growing number of foreign-language horror films made exclusive to Netflix in recent months (KADAVER, DON'T LISTEN etc). It's encouraging to see the platform service branching out and embracing talent from countries other than the US and the UK.
Originally scheduled for release in March of 2020, NOBODY SLEEPS was delayed until late last year due to all this global pandemic shite. When it did finally enjoy a release, its makers touted it as Poland's first ever slasher movie.
It certainly follows the tropes of the slasher genre for the large part, playing to convention at almost every turn. From the stereotypical array of central characters (again, I refer you back to the third paragraph of this review) to the formulaic roll-out of its action - teens have sex, teens get dead; geek reminds others of the rules surrounding horror films; the "let's explore this creepy place but let's not put any lights on" approach; characters proclaiming "I'll be right back" in non-ironic fashion before literally walking into their own demise etc - a harsh eye could certainly chastise this film for being more than a tad "Scooby Doo"-ish.
However, the more patient viewer may ultimately find that NOBODY SLEEPS has other things to offer. As much as it's clearly influenced by its generic American forefathers, it benefits from possessing a very European quality. From the opening aerial shots of Poland's amazingly green countryside onwards, we're treated to some magnificent regional compositions. The film is also blessed with a script that very subtly touches on Polish issues such as class, structure, racism and even isolation (one character confides to another that they're gay, expanding that they don't believe this would be accepted in their society even in this day and age; a cop moans that he was called out to a scene because a woman was driving a bus ... the horror!).
There is a fair amount of gentle humour running throughout, and this may be what helps the characters feel generally warmer than your usual whining, self-entitled twats who populate many a post-2000 American slasher flick. Relatively low on gore to start, the film does escalate somewhat in its final third where it segues from your more basic body-count flick to resembling something more akin to THE HILLS HAVE EYES or WRONG TURN.
I also enjoyed Radzimir Debski's atypical score, along with Cezary Stolecki's frequently striking cinematography. Director Bartosz M Kowalski has an agreeable command over proceedings too: from his uniformly impressive cast, to pacing and tone for the bulk of duration.
The later flashback explaining how the twin brothers became mutated and ultimately murderous is also a nice touch, and deftly handled in satisfyingly creepy style. The final twenty minutes are a misstep, however, starting with an ill-advised late-in-the-day monologue from a peripheral character which really kills any momentum that had been building up to that juncture. This is followed by a lacklustre final act which really ends proceedings on a flat note.
NOBODY SLEEPS IN THE WOODS TONIGHT is currently streaming on Netflix. It's uncut at 103 minutes and 24 seconds long, and is framed in its original 2.39:1 ratio with 16x9 enhancement. The HD presentation is sharp, bright, colourful and clean - everything you'd reasonably expect it to be. Polish stereo audio is even, stable and clear throughout. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easily readable at all times. You're also given the choice to watch the film dubbed into English, but - while the dubbing is well-synchronised - this lends events all the reality of a computer game.
NOBODY SLEEPS IN THE WOODS TONIGHT offers nothing new but does retain just enough Polish flavour to make it worth a watch.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Directed by Bartosz M Kowalski|