Many countries boast a rich horror movie tradition.
Think Great Britain with classic Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee thrillers or modern Japanese imports like “Ringu” and “Ju-On: The Grudge.”
One nation that doesn’t leap to mind? Poland, a nation where Communist rule stymied many, not all, directors from embracing the genre.
“Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight,” just added to Netflix’s content library, hopes to change that state of affairs.
The Polish slasher film—how’s that for an oxymoron—is smarter than most grindhouse films and packs a number of legit shocks. Anyone hungry for memorable kills will see a few not easily forgotten.
Best of all? No woke messaging to take us out of the action. It’s pure horror goodness, assuming you’re not the squeamish sort. “Woods” is a bloody good time in more ways than one.
The story couldn’t be more simple. A group of screen-addicted teens must take a tech time out at a camp for digital addicts.
Enter the standard horror characters, from the nebbishy Julek (Michel Lupa) to the sexually aggressive Aniela (Wiktoria Gasiewska).
So far, so ordinary, although the opening prologue delivers a nasty jolt.
Director/co-writer Bartosz M. Kowalski’s film suggests this isn’t your average B-movie. The cinematography is sharp, arresting, and the performances are solid across the board. One early “kill,” in particular, is so unexpected you might literally gasp at its shock value.
Kowalski knows precisely what he’s doing.
There’s a menace in the woods threatening to turn the camp into a mass funeral, and it doesn’t take kindly to strangers. These screen-free teens don’t know what’s about to hit them.
Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz’s Zosia gets the most back story, letting her inner strength play out organically. The actress, an Instagram favorite with 1.8 million followers, is no Mary Sue.
Minor characters like an unsavory priest and a closeted gay teen suggest lectures are inevitable, but they never arrive.
“Woods” embraces plenty of horror movie tropes, from the oh, so familiar victims to how characters flee the pack to make them easier prey. There’s also an obligatory sex scene to check off “nudity” on the horror movie scorecard, as well as a few boneheaded decisions by the main characters.
It’s still enthralling, and the threats lurking in the woods look different than what we’ve seen before.
“Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight” isn’t a comedy, but the film packs a few yuks in the right places, including a very funny gag about some Hitler-loving souls.
The payoff to that gag is priceless.
Too many horror movies start slowly, forcing us to meet characters we’re eager to see erased. It’s both obligatory and annoying, but horror fans are patient as long as the killing kicks in eventually.
These Gen Z types aren’t lovable, but they feel three-dimensional enough to care when their blood splashes across the screen. Even the jock of the group shows more shading than expected.
The film drew a curious review from left-leaning Decider.com, which ultimately suggested horror fans skip these “Woods.” Criticism is subjective, of course, but this line speaks volumes: “It’s stylish but, unlike modern arthouse horror outings, it lacks any kind of resonant subtext.”
Yes, “Woods” doesn’t comment on race relations, income inequality, or other progressive tropes.
Some horror films expertly ladle on social commentary, like “Night of the Living Dead” or “Get Out.” Many of the best horror films simply scare us silly, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
“Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight” falls squarely in the latter camp.
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