Not every horror flick wants to reinvent the wheel. Plenty of films are fine with rehashing old tropes. Sometimes it’s out of laziness or lack of imagination; best-case scenario, a filmmaker takes time-tested horror motifs and remixes them into something that feels fresh. Director Jordan Barker’s chilly horror mystery, Witches in the Woods, aims for the latter. Whether the film hits its mark is a different matter.
The movie begins like so many horror classics (and not-so-classics); a group of hormonally-charged college kids take a trip out to the woods where a malevolent force picks them off one by one. In this case, the unlucky kids head out for a snowboarding trip, when their SUV slides off the road and leaves them stuck in the snow. Lost, with no supplies or cell reception, their survival boils down to a race against the clock; find help before the inhospitable cold claims their lives.
Sucks to be them, though. They happen to be passing through Stoughton Valley, home to a series of vicious witch trials. Before long, the kids start to wonder if their misfortune is bad luck or the work of a dark supernatural force.
Witches in the Woods is what you call a slow-burner. It holds off on the scares for the first 45-minutes before ratcheting up the tension towards the end of the movie. The problem is that the characters aren’t interesting enough to carry the film until Barker unleashes the scares. And when the film reaches its crescendo, it hardly feels worth the wait.
Christopher Borrelli’s script is what separates the film from other horror movie schlock. Jump-scares take a backseat while the movie explores themes of persecution, privilege, and toxic masculinity. The end result is an uneven movie, but a great conversation starter.