Actor Vincent D’Onofrio has always been a thespian willing to take a risk. His performances are always very different and usually distinctly so. Going by that, it makes perfect sense for his directorial debut to be about as unique as it gets. Sadly, while D’Onofrio often turns in a compelling and quality performance, his film ‘Don’t Go in the Woods’ is about as bad as it gets. A musical/horror hybrid without any level of coherence, you spend just shy of 90 minutes listening to pointless music, interspersed with poorly shot and acted melodrama and the occasional bland murder. It’s all done in such an amateurish and inept way that you can’t help but feel sorry for D’Onofrio. He’s trying to make a slasher flick mixed with a demo for a young band, but it’s a toxic combination. His direction is random and without any thought it seems, and the script he contributed the story too is about as bizarre and flawed as it gets. This is the type of production that you’d expect from a mediocre student film. Granted, this is clearly not meant to be for everyone and is the definition of an experimental movie, but it’s still a poor piece of cinema and I have to report it as such. I take no joy in pouring salt on the wound of a tiny film made with good intentions by a talented actor, but the end result is so bad I can’t do anything but report on what I see. This is likely going to be one of the worst films of 2012.
The little bit of a plot that there is revolves around a group of guys in a band going out into the woods to work on their music. They’re from Brooklyn and look like your generic hipsters, with only the occasional characteristic (such as being blind) to separate them. The leader of the band is Nick (Matt Sbeglia), a brooding emo type that insists on destroying each guy’s cell phones and banning alcohol and women. That doesn’t stop their groupies/girlfriends from following them and starting a party of sorts in the woods. This all just makes Nick madder and madder. They play a bunch of music, but they also start getting picked off by a killer one by one. That’s honestly really all their is too it. The guys play a song, someone wanders off, they break into a song in a musical style, and they get killed…rinse and repeat. Oh, and yawn too.
There’s unlikely to be worse acting in a film this year than in this one. D’Onofrio fills his cast with newcomers (with the sole exception of a cameo by Eric Bogosian…a favorite of mine from his ‘Talk Radio’ days), sometimes even recruiting them from his local Starbucks (I wish I was making them up). The cast has a few natural moments, and their singing is fine, but their line readings are cringe-inducing. The actors and actresses include the aforementioned Matt Sbeglia, Jorgen Jorgensen, Casey Smith, Nick Thorp, Gwynn Galitzer, Kate O’Malley, Soomin Lee, Ali Tobia, Bo Boddie, and Cassandra Lee Walker. Don’t expect to hear much from any of these young men and women going forward. In fact, I bet they won’t even want to put this on their resumes.
Vincent D’Onofrio might grow to be a strong filmmaker, but his writing and directing at this point is barely film school worthy. His directing is atrocious and the script (also written by Sam Bisbee and Joe Vinciguerra) is hardly even on the level of a first draft. The only thing worthwhile in this flick is one or two of the songs are a bit catchy, but he didn’t have a hand in writing them, so I can’t give him any credit. I can fault him though for poor editing choices, an inability to direct his actors, and a pacing that makes an 80-something minute film feel like it’s well over 2 hours long. It’s just porous filmmaking on every level possible.
I actually went into this film hoping for a bizarrely fun experience, but ‘Don’t Go in the Woods’ is about as far as you can get from being any fun. The movie is just plain terrible, there’s no two ways about it. It’s a small movie, but size doesn’t matter here. This is a big disaster. Avoid it at all costs if you know what’s good for you. I’ll give Vincent D’Onofrio a second chance if he makes another movie, but so far he’s 0-1 as a director.
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