Directed by Roxanne Benjamin. Starring Karina Fontes, Casey Adams, Emily Althaus.

Thriller, USA, 87 minutes, Cert 15.

Reviewed at The Edinburgh International Film Festival.


An unsuspecting casual viewer could be forgiven for thinking that this minimalist thriller was actually a mid-90’s indie comedy with its jaunty opening credits sequence and female protagonists discussing flirting techniques in the workplace; a park rangers facility situated amongst a vast forest. Such viewers may then be surprised with the sudden turn into a small-scale tale of survival, mistrust and ruminations on mortality.


This is the unexpected sequence of events that Wendy, Karina Fontes, finds herself mired in when she swaps assignments with her friend Maya who is more interested in pairing up with a male co-worker. In a sequence that recalls THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, Wendy whiles away her shift by listening and grooving to music on her headphones dancing away the hours, only to find herself inexplicably lost amongst the seemingly never-ending expanse of trees and mountains. A situation only worsened by the discovery of a dead body.


With no explanation or clues to the deceased’s identity or how he came to be there and the promise of help from a search party not arriving until the next day, Wendy has to endure a long dark night of the soul. That Wendy described pityingly earlier on as an “indoor kid” is ill-equipped for such an event soon finds problems piling on problems with the sudden arrival of a stranger who seems to have his own interests in the body.


Director Roxanne Benjamin, making her feature-length debut after directing segments for the anthology SOUTHBOUND stretches the premise to a near breaking point that may test the patience of many a viewer. Fontes does well in the part of an out of depth park ranger managing to offset some of her characters annoying tendencies, mainly a lack of common sense, that cause one to wonder how she got a job in the department in the first place. There is also a distinct lack of tension and thrills throughout the film; the set up may promise a taut and lean suspense piece, but mainly we are treated to a shallow character study that also refuses to delve into the psychological effects that such an event could trigger. The over loud soundtrack by The Gifted is constant throughout showing a remarkable lack of restraint. All too often it is relied upon to supply the heavy lifting that the script and direction should be doing mainly when it comes to signalling the more thrilling parts of the feature.


However, the sense of location and isolation is impressively captured. It may be the case that Benjamin has written herself into a box with this particular location and premise. Her work on SOUTHBOUND shows that she is more than capable when it comes to the genre and if she felt more ambitious, as is enticingly alluded to in one sequence here that comes to a disappointing dead end, she could be more successful. As slight as it all is there is a likeable quality to it all, particularly Fontes’ spirited performance. With a broader canvas, which she should hopefully to get to experiment with on her upcoming remake of NIGHT OF THE COMET, her successful knack for likeable characters may click more successfully with a genre audience next time out.


Iain MacLeod.








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