Devil in the Woods (2014)

Richard Vineyard (Stephen Moyer) is taking his family on a camping vacation, deep into the heart of the Jersey woods. He wants to scatter the ashes of his father in a spot where they used to camp. Clearly unamused by this whole ‘camping’ experience, his family trudge along with him… and quickly realize something is very wrong. Wrong with camping, wrong with Richard and wrong with the woods.

As Richard slowly becomes more paranoid – flashing back to some untold horror of his past – he forces his family deeper into the woods and begins to see the ‘Jersey Devil’, a mythical creature born out of some kind of Satan-pact. When dead bodies start appearing and with Richard slowly succumbing to some sort of delirium, his family begin to question one thing: has Richard gone completely insane?

Made in 2012 and titled “The Barrens”, god-only-knows why this film took two years and a title-change to land in British waters. Should we be glad it did though? Yes… and no.

Devil in the Woods is written and directed by horror veteran Darren Lynn Bousman, who has – in the past 10 years – smashed out horror films such as Saw II, III and IV, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Mother’s Day, 666: The Prophecy, The Devil’s Carnival and an episode of Fear Itself. No stranger to horror (obviously!) his experience shows in Devil in the Woods as it’s well directed, bloody, and very well paced.

On producing and acting duties, Stephen Moyer dumps the American accent and goes full-blown Essex geezer, slapping out his Brentwood twang for the world to adore. Being a boy from nearby South Woodham Ferrers, it’s nice to see Mister Moyer proudly showing off his roots! Moyer is excellent throughout, in a tough role that could’ve been over-gurned by other actors.

The major quibble I had with Devil in the Woods was the opening. Now, the main mystery and crux of the film – is he going nuts and killing people or is it actually the Jersey Devil murdering innocents?! – is somewhat muddied by the tacked-on opening sequence, in which Shawn Ashmore and Athena Karkanis are attacked by some flying beast in the woods…

This sequence was always playing in the back of my mind throughout Devil in the Woods. It basically told me that it couldn’t be Richard killing everyone… because he wasn’t flying around the woods at the beginning! He was at home with his family! This opener is an odd choice, probably added to ‘hook’ the audience early on, but it defeats the overriding and compelling reason to keep watching! A bizarre and unfortunate choice.

Also, the delirium mcguffin – Richard being ill – is decent but ultimately confused. SPOILER AHEAD! Why didn’t Richard tell his wife he’d been bitten by the pet dog and he’d had him put down? And how the hell didn’t his wife notice he had a giant bite mark on his arm?! Don’t they get naked together?! There was the occasional quibble like this that – unfortunately – means some audiences will find it hard to connect with the film.

MORE SPOILERS! The ‘devil’ itself is brilliantly realized, with a mix of CGI and practical FX bringing this demonic entity to life. It’s genuinely a scary-looking monster, and very well created… especially considering it could’ve been a laughable mess.

Overall Devil in the Woods is a decent, well made, well acted and well directed horror movie. It suffers from some logic leaps, the occasional pacing issue and a mystery / twist that is (ridiculously) revealed in the opening scene… but overall it’s a decent little horror and worth a watch.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

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