Starring Cara Buono, Clare Foley and Spencer List
Directed by Erik Bloomquist
Written by Erik Bloomquist and Carson Bloomquist
Blue Finch Film Releasing
When FRIDAY THE 13TH first opened in 1980, no one could have predicted that it would spawn not only endless sequels, but an even greater number of imitative films and, as the decades went on, imitations of those imitations. Every so often, one of these movies has distinguished itself among the pack, and the latest is SHE CAME FROM THE WOODS. The new production from enterprising Connecticut-based filmmakers Erik and Carson Bloomquist (LONG LOST, TEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT) is not only a consistently entertaining homage to summer-camp shockers of the past, but a lot more inventive than many of those that have come before.
Though SHE CAME FROM THE WOODS comes billed as a horror/comedy, the Bloomquists (Erik directed and co-stars, and the duo wrote, edited and were among the producers) aren’t spoofing their specific predecessors or the genre in general here. FRIDAY and THE BURNING get name-dropped, but otherwise the humor arises from the characters who discover that their last day working at Camp Briarbrook in summer 1987 may really be their last. Briarbrook is a longtime family business founded by Gilbert McCalister (welcome genre vet William Sadler), who currently runs it with his daughter Heather (STRANGER THINGS’ Cara Buono), whose grown sons Peter (Spencer List) and Shawn (Tyler Elliot Burke) are among the counselors. The opening scenes do an efficient and engaging job of getting us to know the McCalisters and the other counselors, the most prominent of whom are Peter’s girlfriend Lauren (Clare Foley, grown up from SINISTER) and resident asshole Dylan (Adam Weppler).
Just as importantly, they get us to like the characters too (well, not Dylan, though Weppler does a fine job making him the guy you love to hate). They’re all well-delineated enough that it’s easy to get caught up in their camaraderie and conflicts, with some of the latter coming into play after the scary stuff starts. The launching point for that is Peter’s ill-advised decision, following the departure of the young campers, to lead the group in a tribute to Agatha, Briarbrook’s local legend. She was a nurse who did horrible things to kids at the camp decades before (as suggested by the movie’s prologue), and Peter’s prick-your-finger-and-say-her-name ritual, sure enough, brings her spirit back for a new spree of horrible acts. Yet the first act of serious violence erupts in an unexpected way, while also horrifically paying off one of the interpersonal subplots.
From here, the Bloomquists turn SHE CAME FROM THE WOODS into a showcase for many different kinds of horror, from the ghostly to slashings to killer kids, from the teasingly suspenseful (including a neat bit on a camp bus) to seriously bloody. There’s nothing random about the ingredients they employ, though, as each development makes sense within the overall scenario, while also offering enough variety to keep the film alternately surprising, scary and darkly amusing. There’s a lot more going on here than in your typical summer-camp slasher flick, and also a greater amount of reasonable behavior: The cops are called, splitting up is discouraged, and part of the fun is the clever ways in which the movie subverts those actions. If the busy narrative means there are dropped plot threads here and there, it also results in a high level of audience involvement and a genuine sense that you can’t always tell who will survive and what will be left of them.
SHE CAME FROM THE WOODS has also been very well-crafted on its small budget, from Mike Magilnick’s atmospheric photography to Tim Williams’ score, which sets the right mood without leaning hard on the ’80s synth sound. Indeed, there’s just the right, small amount of period signifiers (Kim Wilde songs on the soundtrack, push-button and pay phones instead of the cellular kind) to set the scene. And of course, the makeup effects by Amanda Pepin are more than up to snuff, from butcherings to burnings. Kudos too to the visual effects and animation team who created the very cool closing-credits sequence, and the evocative shadow-play visuals accompanying a key expository speech. That’s the kind of flourish the movie didn’t have to include, and that many of its similar forebears didn’t bother to, and it’s one of the many elements here serving notice that the Bloomquists and co. really cared to elevate SHE CAME FROM THE WOODS above the derivative pack.