There are no false promises in the title for Murder in the Woods. As the marquee suggests, director Luis Iga Garza brings old school slasher thrills to the drive-in and VOD. Sex, violence, and a mysterious killer, it’s all very familiar to the horror crowd. No reinvention, just the hard stuff. That wasn’t a bad thing for this reviewer.
Maybe saying Murder in the Woods doesn’t bring anything new to the table is disingenuous. One thing Luis Iga Garza and writer/producer Yelyna De Leon insist on is having primarily Latinx talent in front and behind the camera. The ensemble cast, led by Jose Julian and Jeanette Samano, with a featured performance from genre legend Danny Trejo as the sinister Sheriff, all play their parts and play them well. It’s great to see an English-language slasher that doesn’t once again have a cast of primarily white actors.
Otherwise, Murder in the Woods doesn’t make the strongest of first impressions. The set-up is tired as all hell: a group of teenagers spend a weekend at a cabin in the woods. Despite the cast’s gifted efforts, it’s hard to really see the characters as anything other than cliches initially. The jock (Jordan Diambrini), the stoner (Kade Wise), the jealous girlfriend (Chelsea Rendon), and the promiscuous homewrecker (Catherine Toribio) all are cartoon characters against the more understated leads Jesse (Julian) and Fernanda (Samano). Nick Albert’s cinematography does the film no favors, with flat lighting everywhere. A dizzying amount of out-of-place needle drops just makes this feel like the typical VOD sludge.
This all changes once we get to the cabin, and the murder in the woods begins. The cast ease into their roles, making the archetypical characters endearing rather than grating. Murder in the Woods develops its own sense of dark humor, knowing what type of film it is and poking fun at it. And when it comes to delivering the blood and gore, make-up department head Colleen Hogan and her team conjure up the type of mangled victims that would make Jason Voorhees blush.
Once Murder in the Woods cleverly reveals the killer’s identity, it can’t help but win me over. It’s a real product of passion, where everyone is trying their hardest to make an entertaining slasher. In the face of a low budget and an overcrowded market, Luis Iga Garza makes something that stands out because of the dedication of everyone involved. And that makes it a trip to the woods worthwhile.
Murder in the Woods is now available on VOD and in drive-ins.