Movie Review: Vincent D’onofrio’s DON’T GO IN THE WOODS

On paper, Vincent D’onofrio’s 83-minute slasher musical sounds rather like the perfect movie. Sadly, it isn’t.

On paper, Vincent D’onofrio’s 83-minute slasher musical sounds rather like the perfect movie. Don’t Go In The Woods closed the Tribeca Film Festival On The Road series in Houston this weekend with D’onofrio and screenwriter/music composer Sam Bisbee in attendance. Unfortunately, the film’s entertainment value never lives up to its lofty concept.

Don’t Go In The Woods is about a folksy emo band made up of five guys who take a retreat into the woods with the intent of writing five songs without any of the following distractions: “No phones, no weed, no booze, no girls.” The overly-zealous frontman for the band, Nick, actually chops all the cell phones in half to prevent any diversions, but the rest of the rules quickly fall by the wayside as the other bandmates smuggle in weed and booze and a group of girls, including Nick’s recent ex-girlfriend, crash the party. Also crashing the party? A crazed killer who ruthlessly butchers the band members and girls one by one. Or sometimes two by two.

I will say that the gore is all very creative and effective. Don’t Go In The Woods features some very original kills. The premise is also original and risky, and I admire that. But the characters are all so reductive: we have Asian Stoner, Ambitious Frontman, Profound Blind Guy, Sexy Douchebag and Various Women. The women in particular are so interchangeable and disposable. They don’t even get their own songs–the only times the women sing are when they’re reprising the guys’ songs from earlier in the film, and those are often cut short when the ladies are butchered.

The music’s okay; it’s that sort of earnest, emo-rock that I’ve never really dug, but the musicians are all quite talented. The real problem is the acting. D’onofrio said during the Q&A that he intentionally cast people who had never acted before, because he wanted to recreate that sort of Slacker vibe where the audience is always waiting a few beats for the actor to get his/her line out. I think the problems lies within trying to create that vibe. These actors aren’t great, but with stronger direction, they certainly could have offered better performances than the ones in Don’t Go In The Woods.

The movie is also lacking any substantial subtext. During the Q&A, someone quite understandably asked, “Is this movie a metaphor for the creative endeavor?” and D’onofrio laughed it off, clearly not having given much thought to what this movie is about. He said he only wanted to make it as entertaining as possible, and while I do believe that films can be hugely entertaining even when they are not rich with subtext, those films need to be much more entertaining than Don’t Go In The Woods. At 83 minutes, the film felt much longer.

(Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images for Momentum)

That said, it was so great to have D’onofrio and Bisbee attend the festival, visit with fans and give a spirited Q&A. Houston just doesn’t get many events like this, and D’onofrio in particular was warm and accessible all evening. Tribeca Enterprises CCO Geoffrey Gilmore moderated the Q&A, and he said that D’onofrio has always been interested in becoming involved with the independent film arena. He said that Don’t Go In The Woods was filmed in twelve days for under $100,000.

D’onofrio said that he made the film after asking himself, “What can I do right now? I have a very good friend [Bisbee] who is a great composer, and I have woods and a film crew. So I thought, ‘How about a slasher musical?’” He  talked some more about the casting, explaining that the band is actually called The Dirty Dirty, friends of his nephew that he found through MySpace. Many of the other actors were cast from the coffee shop around the corner from him, and even the art director “used to serve [him] coffee and pastries every morning.” At some point to fill out the cast, he just started asking random people on the street if they could sing, and he said the better singers got to live longer.

Bisbee said he was inspired by Once when creating the music, and that when they were recording in the studio, they tried to make it as authentic as possible by using a battery-powered keyboard and bass amp, everything the band would have to use to make these songs in the woods.

When someone asked D’onofrio about the title, he replied, “It’s just a blatant title. Don’t go in the woods! If we made a sequel, I would call it I SAID, Don’t Go In The Woods!”

You can read about the opening night of the Tribeca Film Festival On the Road and read reviews of Janie Jones and Mr. Stache here, and read a review of TFF film The Last Rites of Joe May here.