What do you get when you mix a little bit of Straw Dogs with a dash of Deliverance, and then give it a Spanish twist? You get Bosque de sombras (aka; The Backwoods), a fairly by-the-numbers thriller that shines primarily due to the strong performances of its three male leads – Gary Oldman, Paddy Considine, and Lluis Homar.
Oldman and Considine play Paul and Norman, two former co-workers who are reunited when Norman pays visit to a remote area of Spain where Paul has purchased his Spanish ancestor’s family home. Norman and his wife, Lucy (the lovely-yet-bland Virginia Ledoyen), are in the midst of a marriage meltdown due to her recent miscarriage, and the tension between them is amplified by Paul’s dominance over Norman. When the pair go hunting in the woods, they stumble upon a seemingly abandoned house in which a deformed young girl is being kept prisoner. Paul insists that they bring the girl to the police, but Norman thinks they should just leave the girl and forget they ever came upon her. Paul, of course, convinced Norman that bringing her to the police is the right thing to do, but they first bring the girl back to Paul’s house, where Lucy and Paul’s wife, Isabel (Aitana-Sanchez Gijon), are waiting for them. The two couples bicker over Paul’s decision (Lucy is appalled by the girl, while Isabel is nurturing) until the next morning, when a group of shotgun toting men come to Paul’s door and tell them they are searching for a missing child. Paul hatches a plan in which he will accompany the men on their “search”, while Norman will sneak the girl into town, but Norman’s doesn’t want any part of the plan, and his defiance leads to a showdown with the locals.
The Backwoods is a competently made film dragged down by familiar plot contrivances (Norman’s burgeoning need to prove his “manhood” to Lucy mirrors the Dustin Hoffman/Susan George relationship in Straw Dogs, while Oldman’s character is clearly modeled after the Burt Reynolds character in Deliverance), and a somewhat dribbling pace. Matters are made worse by Ledoyen’s deadpan delivery as Lucy, making her character wholly unsympathetic, and making Norman’s “journey” from kowtowing underling to monosyllabic killing machine that much less believable. Still, Oldman and Considine turn in strong performances, and Lluis Homar’s imbues his ambiguously villainous Paco with a desperate and apprehensive nature that makes him, perhaps, the most sympathetic character in the film, as well as an actor who I would love to see more of.
The DVD from Lionsgate features nothing by way of extras save for several trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
While certainly not in league with the films it apes with varying degrees of effectiveness, The Backwoods is still a mildly entertaining thriller that offers a few surprises, some solid performances, and a bleak-yet-satisfying conclusion. If "fish-out-of-water-meets-crazy-locals-and-kills-'em" flicks are your thing, you could certainly do much worse.