Note: the last paragraph of this review contains a plot spoiler.
Vincent D’Onofrio has fascinated us in so many roles, not so much as director. We looked forward to his directorial debut, Don’t Go in the Woods, now available on DVD and on demand. It’s a musical, it’s horror, it’s a thriller—what more could we want? (I’ll answer that one in a moment.) Unlike The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Don’t Go in the Woods is not a comedy. Instead it is an 83-minute joke that isn’t worth the wait for the punch line. Strong words, I know, from a D’Onofrio fan.
Directors of good horror films know that the audience has already seen enough graphic violence, dripping organs, and soft-core sex, and scare us instead with the things we can’t see. Lucky audience, D’Onofrio also learned this before he wrote and directed Don’t Go in the Woods. However, we are served too many cheap horror film clichés and meaningless scenes to consider it a good horror film, and it doesn’t combine the right elements to be considered a bad movie, in the sense of bad movies we love to watch. It’s more a mediocre film that we never want to see again.
A group of young men comprising a band go camping in the woods under the guidance of their leader Nick (Matt Sbeglia), an obsessive dictator. Nick wanted them to get away from the distractions of city life and write songs—songs desperately needed to complete an album on which they are working. Being obsessive, Nick makes sure they will not be distracted by drugs, alcohol, or women by throwing their weed out the window, confiscating their booze, and destroying their cell phones. So we’ve got a group of young men (one of whom is blind), in an isolated location far from civilization, and no cell phones. To cap it off, Nick shares an eerie urban legend around the campfire.
Nick mercilessly rides the guys to create, to be the outstanding band they could be and not the party band they are. Can creativity flourish with the crack of a whip? Apparently it can, because they come up with one dark, nihilistic song after another (depressed folks should not buy the soundtrack).
Most of the guys—except Nick, of course—are thrilled when a phalanx of groupies shows up and the real partying can start. It is marred only by Nick’s continuous whining and temper tantrums, and the sudden violent deaths of those who separate from the group for more than thirty seconds. Yet more songs get written and, worse yet, some of the characters break into song to express their emotions, 1950s style. Since most of those songs are parodies of the band’s songs it is oddly funny, but not funny enough to make the audience laugh. In fact, the only decent laugh is provided by a song at the beginning of the film reportedly sung by Vincent D’Onofrio.
*** Warning: Plot Spoiler *** Don’t Go in the Woods is a “then there was one” horror film, and Nick is the one. There hangs the closing punch line. Because so little of the film makes sense (and don’t even ask about continuity), it’s not all that amusing, leaving us with the feeling we’ve just wasted 83 minutes we could have spent cleaning the lint filter in our dryer. Writing a negative review of a Vincent D’Onofrio effort nearly breaks my heart, but not nearly as severely as readers would break my skull if I recommended it.