Greetings Insomniacs! Two of my favorite things to do are watching slasher movies and going camping! So, when the chance arises to watch a movie combining the two, I can’t wait to enjoy the ride. Slasher movies have always felt right at home in the woods. I was able to sit down and check out Dark Forest recently. How well does it fit into the slasher in the woods subgenre? Let’s find out!
Dark Forest is the first full length film from Zellco Prodcutions based out of Winipeg, Canada. Shot in Manitoba, the cinematography is beautiful. The colors are crisp and from the very first shots, it feels like you are not watching your standard smaller budget horror film. The story centers on Emily, who is in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend, Peter. Emily’s friends are going camping for the weekend. When they come to pick up Emily, Peter in full on control mode is able to prevent Emily from going. He almost gets into it with Emily’s friend, Michelle. After the girls have left, Emily decides that she is still going on the trip. Good for her! She sneaks out but Peter discovers and slowly slips into nutzoid mode!
This is where the real fun begins! Peter, played by Dennis Scullard brings a great, new psychopath to the screen. He just has a certain danger about him that is easy to feel the moment he comes on the screen. I would compare his role much to that of Michael Shannon’s descent in Bug. Yet, he is also doing his own thing, and that come through in this role. He attempts to get his two buddies to help him in his plan. They think they are just going to scare the girls. Nope. Peter is hoping to make them pay taking Emily away. Trevor Kristjanson plays Jake and our first victim! I think it was filmed with some cool edits, teasing us enough for what’s to come. Matthew Steffanson plays Roy who with great trepidation goes along with the plan. What choice does he have? He just saw his friend killed. As Peter comes back into the shot, he is splattered with blood. I though they did a great job with what they used. The blood looked real and we do get generous amounts of it throughout the fim!
So, the girls are going camping. And we really have great casting here. Laurel McArthur plays Emily. Looking at the press kit, she appears to not be a full time actor. And that is a shame! She’s very natural in the role and the camera loves her. Let’s hope that we see more of her in future productions. Jalin Desloges and Veronica Ternopolski play sisters Francine and Michelle. Michelle is a tough cookie and has Emily’s back. She definitely would fit the final girl mode well in a film of her own. And I thought Jalin had a lot of fun with her role. Weronika Sokalska plays their other friend Jolene, and she brought back memories of Tracie Savage as Debbie in Friday the 13th part 3, she just had that charisma to her.
Meanwhile, we are also introduced to another set of campers. This was cool. From watching the trailer, I had assumed that all of this characters knew each other and were camping together. No, we get two sets of campers. I haven’t seen this is a slasher film in a while. Two different storylines going on with the same psychopath interwoven. It was very refreshing, and some other horror films should take their ques from this. This foursome played well on what you would expect from a slasher film. Here, you get the dynamics that built the roadmaps for characterization in this genre. You have the kind of jerk boyfriend played by Graham Silver. I imagine his character, a jock back in high school. His girlfriend is played by Alyssa Wyspianski. Both of them play the long dating, bickering couple well. We are also introduced to Kim played by Genevieve DeGraves and Frankie played by Jesse Lang. She is just getting over a boyfriend and he seems to be digging on Kim. They both had great chemistry, and I was sad to see them taken out.
Let me mention now, the acting in this film is above what you would normally see in a smaller budget horror film. I easily became invested in the characters, and was rooting for some to make it. Casting can make or break a picture, and I thought it was spot on throughout.
Back to Peter and Roy, they have made it to the forest and come across a couple making out in their car. They make easy fodder for Peter. The kills are simple and the effects, both CGI and practical look great. Sometimes the CGI is very blatant and tough to marriage what is on the screen. I thought they kept it at a minimum and I had to rewind one or two kills to see if it was CGI or practical. Too much CGI is used in indie productions sometimes, and take away from the experience. I thought the balance was perfect here.
Peter and Roy make their way to the site of our second campers. There are some eerie shots of Peter melting in and out of the dark forest (Hey, the title!) and it is very effective. I will be looking over my shoulder the next time we go camping! Unfortunately, these campers stand no chance. Two of our campers are picked off together! And you kinda know the other two aren’t going to make it either. Alyssa’s character Sally is left by herself at the campsite for hours by herself. She seems to think the others are playing tricks on her. I think I would have been out in the woods looking for my friends after a certain amount of time. But, she is most likely scared and not thinking in her right mind frame. There is a great shot of Peter coming up to the site behind her, and boom we have 4 less campers in the woods!
Things take an interesting twist when Peter gets to the girl’s camp. I don’t want to reveal too much more about the movie. We do make a switch from slasher flick to revenge flick here, and it’s really fun. Peter and Michelle get to finish their encounter from earlier in the picture, and I actually vocalized my excitement over one part of their confrontation. It was a cool trick involving a hammer and a knife. It was a cool moment.
I think my only question, in this part of the film involves Emily realizing Peter is at the campsite. She doesn’t seem surprised that he is there. Maybe she was expecting him to follow her there. I guess I would have liked to see a little different reaction to him being there. But, it didn’t take anything away from this ride. And the ending is quite enjoyable. The film is a satisfying experience all around.
Roger Boyer and David Zellis wrote and produced a great little film. It feels very comfortable in it’s 80s slasher roots, and I can see myself watching this again, sharing it with some of my other horror friends. This was Roger’s directoral debut and I thought he had a great grip of the story and the shots he wanted. None of it felt out of place. I read that there were more shots added after the initial filming. The flow is seamless.
I also can’t say enough about James Hofer’s score. It is the perfect synth piece. It soars and keeps the pace. It just puts you in the, “yes, I am watching a cool horror flick” mode. I don’t what else to call it!
So, you should definitely track down this one to watch! They are all over social media!
The movie is also streaming on Amazon Prime.
I will be watching it again! Next time, I just need to figure out what to double feature it with!
In conclusion, yes this feels right at home in the slasher in the woods subgenre. So nice to have another good one out there. And support these films. Go see them, watch them at home, and give feedback. You should like stuff on social media and share. There are so many other choices out there from the big studies and lots of good films waiting to be discovered. This is one of them!
Thanks for stopping by Insomniacs! As always, thank you for taking the drive-in wherever you are!
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— Ed Davis, Curator of The Insomniac Drive-In
I just want to give a thanks to David Zellis, the producer and co-writer of this film for bringing it to my attention. Look forward to whatever Zellco Productions does next!
All photos courtey of Zellco Productions.