You should know straight off when one of the main cast members of A Night in the Woods – yet another feeble entry in the handheld camera / lost footage genre – is called Scoot McNairy, that you’re in for trouble.
Brody (McNairy), his girlfriend Kerry (Anna Skellern) and her cousin Leo (Andrew Hawley) set out for a weekend camping trip on Dartmoor in England’s picturesque West Country. Ignoring warnings from the locals the trio set out for the reputedly haunted Wistman’s Woods, intent on soaking up the atmosphere of the legendary area. However as the weekend wares on relationships between the three young people become strained as it emerges that each are keeping secrets from the others. Then they discover that they are not alone on the moor and there is more truth to the local legends than they first believed.
The new century’s (now thankfully waning) obsession with lost footage films shot on handheld cameras, which mainly involved young people going on trips to places they shouldn’t and coming off the worse for it, fast lost it’s ability to shock. For every Blair Witch Project (1999) gem there were a dozen A Night in the Woods duds, and like the grainy home movie you find in your parent’s attic which is fun to watch the first couple of times, this niche area of horror quickly became boringly repetitive due to its increasingly frequent and unimaginative use.
This said lacklustre sub-genre is what leads to one of the problems (amongst many) with A Night in the Woods – namely who the hell’s holding the camera and taking the footage for most of the time. Take for instance the segment where Kerry runs around Dartmoor in the pitch black searching for Brody and Leo who have inexplicably disappeared – if they’re all gone and she’s on her own who then is recording her increasingly frantic search around the moor. It’s anomalies like this or the film’s regular flashbacks to brief incidents in the weeks leading up to the trio’s trip, clearly designed to explain the reasons behind their strained relationships, which lack any sense of reality or cohesion.
You then have the sub-plot of the mysterious Wistman’s Woods, which remains just that, a mystery. Nothing is made of the reasons behind the areas legend and – though it’s clear that this is the root of the characters’ ultimate demise – who or what perpetrates their grisly ends is never fully explained.
In the film’s favour it is beautifully shot – at least it is when you can actually see what is going on. The day scenes captured in black and white are eerily reminiscent of the monochrome pictures of ghost photographer Simon Marsden. But the sudden jumps between this and colour footage during both day and night, for which there is no apparent reason, only results in confusion and lacks any of the tension the filmmakers were clearly striving for.
There’s little else to say about A Night in the Woods, a film in which the characters and threadbare plot race around like headless chickens until there’s not much left of either them or it. A pretty accurate summation of the lifeless lost footage genre as a whole.