With some movies — e.g., “Burnt Orange Heresy” or “The Big Ugly” or “Yes, God, Yes” — we have to spend a little time explaining the meaning of the title and how it relates to the story at hand.
Not so with “Murder in the Woods.” The deal here is there’s …
Murder. In the Woods.
Yep, this is your basic horror movie about a bunch of idiots — I mean, teenagers — who arrive at a remote cabin getaway for a weekend of partying, but quickly find themselves getting picked off one by one in splatter-movie fashion. And though we’ve seen this story dozens of times before, director Luis Iga Garza and screenwriter Yelyna De Leon deliver a darkly funny, self-aware and deliberately (I would think) cliché-riddled screamer. It’s not quite a parody a la the “Scream” movies, but at no time are we expected to take this nonsense seriously.
The first indication “Murder in the Woods” is going to have a goofy side comes when we meet the shy nice guy Jesse (Jose Julian), who lives with his Nana (Soledad St. Hilaire) because his parents were killed in a murder-suicide years ago. And how do we know this? Because Nana has a living room shrine that includes a framed newspaper headline commemorating the occasion. That’s a little crazy, Nana!
Against his superstitious Nana’s warnings, Jesse heads out for the weekend with his friends Gabe (Jordan Diambrini) and Gabe’s vivacious girlfriend Chelsea (Chelsea Rendon), who is celebrating her birthday. With them are the obligatory wisecracking pothead character of Jule (Kade Wise), the selfie-obsessed and promiscuous Celeste (Catherine Toribio), and the sweet and lovely Fernanda (Jeanette Samano), who is visiting for the first time in years after her family moved to Chicago. (One way in which “Murder in the Woods” differs from most teen horror films: the mostly Latino, multicultural cast.)
Even before the group makes it to the cabin, the trip seems cursed, from the car hitting a deer to a stop at a seemingly deserted gas station to the sudden appearance of the intimidating Sheriff Lorenzo (the one and only Danny Trejo), who sounds like he’s issuing a threat even when he’s telling the kids to be careful out there. And once they arrive at the cabin, well, you know the drill. The kids get wasted and they get into spats and they split up when they should stay together, and every once in a while, there’s a shock-moment when someone gets stabbed or shot or crushed by a car by an unseen killer. In the immortal words of Men at Work, who can it be now?
Meanwhile, we keep seeing an image of a little boy in a window, making us wonder if he’s a ghost, or if the house is haunted; something like that. (It’s not all that hard to figure it out.) The young and attractive cast does a fine job of selling the ridiculous plot developments; it’s probably great fun to make a drive-in horror film complete with gallons of fake blood and one character after another biting the dust in creative fashion.
Plus, Danny Trejo!