A trip has been planned to the wilds of Dartmoor by American in Britain Brody (Scoot McNairy) who wants to indulge in an adventure with his girlfriend Kerry (Anna Skellern), or at least go camping. Along the way from London, they visit Stonehenge where he's less than impressed, but they also have to pick up Kerry's cousin Leo (Andrew Hawley) who Brody is not as keen on as she is. There's a reason for that, but he keeps it quiet as they near the moors, filming their journey all the way in spite of his partner telling him she's sick of his cameras...
Though it's a good thing Brody is such a camera obsessive because without it we wouldn't get to see the film, although some still had their doubts that was a good thing given they had already seen The Blair Witch Project some years before and didn't really need a British version which copied it so slavishly that one wondered what the point to it was. It was all here: the found footage style, the shaky camera when things got tense, the liberal amounts of swearing thanks to improvised dialogue (they had to fall back on saying something when it was meant to be scary), and even the opening caption which told us we were watching three people who had mysteriously disappeared.
Leaving this film as the sole hint of what might have happened to them, natch. According to director Richard Parry, the idea for this came to him twenty-five years before it was made, which you might see as a generous estimate and put the inception somewhere around the 1999 mark, but the story went that he was camping at the locations we see in the movie, and when he awoke in the middle of the night he could have sworn someone had him by the neck. Somehow he drifted back to sleep again, which demonstrated either he had nerves of steel or it was all a dream, but anyway this was supposedly evidence a supernatural pair of strangling hands were on Dartmoor, ready to alarm the unwary.
Does any of that make it into the film, however? Well, maybe it does but the truth was it was hard to tell what the hell was going on in increasing doses of confusion, so you could work out that Brody wanted to give Leo a piece of his mind, and then we find out why, and also that Leo and Kerry share a bond somewhat closer than is healthy, then Brody suspects something so has organised the trip to get it all out in the open, but after that it was anyone's guess what was up. The location was a solid one, but the impression was a more traditional form of filming would have done it more justice than watching it see-sawing around the screen as the camera swayed this way and that for presumed authenticity to home video.
If you were getting tired of all those movies which approximated real life to horror, comedy, thriller, or whatever fictional genre they could think up, then you were not going to get on with A Night in the Woods, though the idea that anyone who insists on recording what's going on around them for all the hours God sent is mentally unbalanced was a good one. What was not so good was how Parry applied it to his story, and again the improvisation had sabotaged the project as if they had all ventured out, small cast (who were not half bad, to be fair) and small crew, with a vague idea of where this was heading only to find their invention relying purely on that movie they saw once, oh, what was it called? Yeah, The Blair Witch Project. Was this intentional or more embarrassingly, were they all caught up in the moment so much that they faithfully recreated the previous movie unintentionally? Whichever, the guddle of wild camera movement and garbled sound ensured complete incomprehensibility by the finale.
[Momentum's Region 2 DVD has a making of and a trailer as extras. You can see this in selected cinemas from September 7th 2012, with the DVD out on the 10th.]