HIDDEN IN THE WOODS Is Exploitation Only for Exploitation's Sake
Oct 10, 2013
One of the central problems in reviewing films so heavily steeped in traditional exploitation themes is that – at their core – there’s very little redeeming quality to them. Essentially, what one can say all films of this nature share is the desire to have one’s revenge – it isn’t about having one’s cake and eating it but rather it’s about being totally bent out of shape that whoever was baking the cake obviously ruined it. Now, it’s time that flawed baker pay the piper. Otherwise, the images are swathed in the requisite amount of blood, anger, and any other human depravity that’s fit to be squeezed into these images. Looking for greater meaning is a fool’s paradise; believing you’ll find any is the fool’s gold.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Deep in the wooded countryside, Ana and Anny live with their thuggish father (a part-time drug dealer) and their deformed brother. When their father eventually runs into trouble with the law, the children decide to take in ‘on the lam,’ breaking out for a distant cabin with the promise for starting over. However, fate intervenes … along with a healthy dose of routine bloodshed, creative prostitution, and elective cannibalism.
Exploitation films tend to be populated with the most unsavory characters a director, screenwriter, or storyteller one can find, and HIDDEN IN THE WOODS is certainly no different. From the film’s opening sequence when we see a man plunging his screaming wife’s face into a kitchen sink filled with water while demanding the name of her secret lover, no audience member should be coming at the picture with any sense of delusion: these are bad folks – yes, the victims, too – and they’re about to do something bad. True to form, the man walks out and announces to his two young girls that “mommy’s gone to Heaven,” and that’s about as much context one might need to understand the picture’s context.
Still, somehow HIDDEN manages to wring out one cruel, sadistic surprise after another – our killer is not only a murderous single parent but also a drug-dealer for the worse heavy, a pedophile who’s preying on the girls; our killer is also engaging in incestuous relations with his oldest girl; even more shocking, the man’s raising his youngest (a deformed infant) on a diet of raw meat. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, screenwriters Andrea Cavaletto and Patricio Valladares (who also directed) are all too happy to craft a scene reminding you that you haven’t. And just how bad can it get? Well, methinks if this thing had gone on for more than 98 minutes they somehow still wouldn’t have run out of material.
It isn’t as if HIDDEN fails in any regard. To the contrary, it’s probably the pinnacle of brutal storytelling one is likely to happen across in this modern age. By their very definition, exploitation films are meant to elicit some strong response of their audience, be it anger, disgust, revulsion, or perhaps tragically misplaced delight in the act of discovering how much suffering one character (or a cast of them) can endure. In that respect, I can certainly understand why the picture enjoys its controversial reputation. But having sat through this once (I will admit that I resorted to some healthy fast-forwarding in the film’s final twenty minutes when it became a bit of a slog for me personally) I’d probably not even do so again, and that’s only because I found it too narrowly focused on abusing my sensibilities as a voyeur instead of legitimately delivering a story with characters worth exploring.
It might help to think of this all as a Spanish telenovel … but instead of a convention director they brought in David Lynch to reshoot Quentin Tarantino’s footage … and had the Coen Brothers rework the script. Suffice it to say, it’s super-violent and ultra-bloody.
HIDDEN IN THE WOODS (2012) is produced by Vallastudio Pictures. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled by Artsploitation Films. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Spanish spoken language film with English subtitles. As for the technical specifications? Well, IMDB.com reports that the film’s budget clocked in at around a whopping $90,000, and I don’t doubt it. In fact, that figure may be a bit high. This was mostly shot in ridiculously absurd close-up; in some sequences, the violence happens just off-screen, and that’s likely because they couldn’t afford anything more than a bucket of blood to throw at the principles. To my surprise, the release comes with a handy assortment of special features – the disc has an interview with director Valladares, some behind-the-scenes shorts, and theatrical trailers for other Artsploitation releases; furthermore, the product packaging includes a nifty little 8-page booklet that explores the production in some modest detail.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. The short answer here is that there’s little reason to sit through HIDDEN IN THE WOODS except other than to satisfy one’s curiosity. It’s exploitation for exploitation’s sake. There isn’t anything redeeming to this story exploring perhaps the most macabre set of family values I’ve ever seen committed to film. Unfortunately, too much of what story is there plays out with some honestly sub-par acting – much like the Spanish telenovels already referenced; if that’s your predilection, then you might find more here to admire than I did. Otherwise, it’s all just bizarre.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Artsploitation Films provided me with a DVD copy of HIDDEN IN THE WOODS by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.