A fun birthday weekend with your friends at an old house that happens to be in the middle of nowhere in the woods… what could go wrong? You guessed it, pretty much all of it. Murder in the Woods reminded me why I love slasher films. The perfectly timed music that sets the theme, a group of people out in the middle of nowhere continually split up, and bloody inventive deaths. This movie has all that while breaking diversity barriers and showing that POC characters do not always have to be cast in stereotypical roles. Director Luis Iga Garza mentions,
“I realized that this type of film had never been done in English for a mainstream audience, where Latinos and people of color are the leads, and they are not portrayed in stereotypical ways. This is why, while developing this indie feature, we were very conscious of making sure that there would be a diverse cast in lead roles.”
He was followed by Writer and Producer, Yelyna De León, adding,
“For us, it’s important for this story to be universal, but being Mexican-American, it was also important for the script to include cultural Latino references such as El Dia de los Muertos, The Chupacabras, and other stories that are recognizable. We purposely showed authentic moments, such as the altars to honor our ancestors, and blessings when we leave the house, memorable experiences that we share with our families.”
After the creepily playing of the opening credits, we are met with a guy running for his life in the woods. He falls to the ground in front of an old house, taking a moment to make a tourniquet for his bloody leg when car lights appear. But they are not there to help him. The blood on the front confirms it is what most likely hit and injured the guy. He goes into the house but is followed by someone with an ax. Next thing we know, it is the next day and all sunny.
That was just the opening for Murder in the Woods. Thanks to Think Jam, Nerds and Beyond were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to screen this film for review.
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There will be spoilers beyond this point.
Jesse (José Julián) is getting waiting for his friends to come to pick him up for a camping weekend getaway while his grandmother is lighting candles and praying over images and newspaper articles about a woman and man that died in a murder-suicide. She is reserved about her grandson going on what we find out is the ninth anniversary of his parents’ death. Hmm, that kid in the picture looks familiar.
On the drive, they are trying to find a radio station when one of those alert noises come on. As it is saying, “this is NOT a test,” they put a CD in. Many hours later, there is a knock on the driver’s window at a closed gas station, startling them all. It is Sheriff Lorenzo (Danny Trejo). Seriously, do not call him an officer. Ignoring his warning, they continue to the creepy old house, hitting an animal and losing cell reception on the way. When they finally do get to the house, it is the same from the movie’s opening. Adding to the atmosphere, when they open the door to go in, the rocking chair to the side is rocking by itself.
Now for the death tally. After an argument, Celeste (Catherine Toribio) storms out, marking the first casualty and separating and searching in the film. After the second person dies from a car landing on him, loud knocks are at the door. The Sheriff told them they have to evacuate because of fires, chastising them for not heading the alert that went out earlier. They panic, telling them about their friend’s deaths, but yet again, the dead bodies are not there to be seen. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention all the dead bodies so far vanish when they go back to them? In the words of the Sheriff, what have they been smoking and drinking? As Jesse and the Sheriff head to the cop car to leave, the Sheriff is shot. “I shot the Sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy.” Sorry. Now back in the house, the four remaining teens see the words “Times Up” written on the wall in blood. Jule (Kade Wise) goes upstairs to find the ringing phone, alone, so you know that he is next. I will leave the final deaths a mystery, all I will say is that the ending is not what I thought or expected.
This movie already has my full attention throughout. Knowing it is a slasher fic, you cannot help but try to figure out who is going to be the first to go and who the killer is. The latter is answered rather quickly into the party. I enjoyed the way the camera moves with them and also acted as the narrative for whoever is the killer is unique. The one character that stood out from the beginning for me was Jesse. He had me scratching my head because he always seemed to know more than he was saying and managed to remain mostly calm. As I mentioned in the death tally, the dead bodies would disappear when the ones who found them would bring the others to show them. Making it look as if the death had never happened, and perhaps there was a supernatural element at work, I mean we did keep seeing the little boy in the window. Overall, the movie really lived up to its title, Murder in the Woods. Of course, there is the added bonus of the legend that is Danny Trejo.
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Overall the movie did keep me guessing and even second-guessing myself. There was no lengthy waiting for the first death, and it progressed quickly from there. It was refreshing to see a film have Latinx cultural references and even include a Christian faith-based ritual. Like Writer/Producer, Yelyna De León previously mentioned, an altar to honor their ancestors and more.
This film was Directed/Produced by Luis Iga Garza (The Call), Written/Produced by Yelyna De Leon (A Better Life), and Music Composers Gerardo Garcia Jr. and Isabelle Engman. The talented cast includes Kade Wise (Empire), José Julián (The Society), Chelsea Rendon (Vida), Jeanette Samano (Female Fight Squad), Jordan Diambrini (The Outfield), Catherine Toribio (Jane the Virgin), Soledad St. Hilaire (Fixing Paco), Danny Trejo (Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo), and more.
You will be able to watch Murder in the Woods from REZINATE Entertainment and Yel Productions on Digital and Video on Demand nationwide starting September 18. If you want to know more about the film, you can go to their website and social media accounts, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Check out the trailer below!