The pitch for Matthew Lessner’s The Woods might have gone like this: A gaggle of youths from the Pacific Northwest creates a forest commune, only to find, when the “real” world collapses, their experiment in self-sufficient living is all they have left. All that, plus half an idea of satire that Lessner rides really, really hard—that is, if peppering the faux-droll voiceover narration with innumerable pop-culture buzzwords or the names of popular consumer electronics devices qualifies as satire. There’s a scene early in the movie where the commune dwellers have an office desk set up, one telling the other, “You have to dial nine to get out.” That’s the entire joke; if you laughed, you’re the films’ target audience. In short, The Woods is a logline in search of a movie.
The community consists of a bunch of near-autistic hipsters and their obnoxious, needy, micromanaging leader Daniel, an insecure asshole who communicates in corporate meeting-speak part of the time, and Marxist dogma the rest of the time. The only other sentient life form in the group is Dean, who provides the poetic voiceover, sometimes explaining what’s going on, sometimes embarking on abstract digressions and reminiscences. Dean and Daniel enjoy a vaguely Bellflower-esque relationship, i.e. a woman (vile creature, woman!) comes between them, and the less bearded of the two man-boys becomes the more savage, or something.
I don’t understand why a film that’s modest of budget must also be so short of ideas, but I suppose that’s to be expected as a consequence of the Kickstarter era, wherein, on occasion, the absolute minimum of concepts, masking as a knowing spoof of our Apple-Wii-Ikea-etc. life, eventually sees the light of day, thanks to the spare shekels of friends and family. Lessner thinks there’s something inherently funny about survivalists who can’t let go of creature comforts, however superficial; Woody Allen would have had a whole afternoon’s worth of one-liners on the matter. The Woods scans like a string of improv scenes where the actors are instructed to do what they will with a limited quantity of props.
We might be thankful that the film, shot on 16mm in 2008, is light on normal staging and blocking of people having conversations and scenes with typical screenplay-style little conflicts that form a part of a greater, conventional narrative, blah de blah. This isn’t The Walking Dead. Nobody whips out a gun, dialogues don’t seem to have much in the way of propulsive urgency, as much of what passes before the camera consists of low-key, discursive observations of the camp’s daily life. It’s all very “found footage,” Impolex by way of Discovery’s The Colony, only with a lot more in the way of familiar consumer products. There’s some novel value, in other words. That has to be worth something, right?