Coming across as a promotional showcase for a gaggle of young up-and-coming singer-actors, Don’t Go in the Woods tethers together numerous indie-rock musical numbers with a backwoods-horror-film framework that’s the definition of an afterthought. Directed by Vincent D’Onofrio, whose passable behind-the-camera work trumps Sam Bisbee and Joe Vinciguerra’s gossamer-thin scripting, the film takes to the foresty unknown with a five-guy band led by Nick (Matt Sbeglia), who’s organized the outing as a means of forcing his mates to concentrate on writing a new album free from the distractions of drugs, girls, and cellphones—which he confiscates and irrationally smashes. Bristling at their rural confines, the band members complain and goof off when not singing songs around the campfire, a blather-croon-blather pattern that continues once the guys’ many, equally blank female friends show up out of nowhere to party and, thus, further annoy the surly, self-important Nick. D’Onofrio shoots these various sequences in the same nondescriptly flat way, and the ballads—which (penned by Bisbee) eventually emanate out of the mouths of virtually every on-screen character, at least for a few bars—are similarly unremarkable, trading in a likeminded brand of sensitive acoustic-guitar earnestness.
Rather than a Rocky Horror-style blend of horror and music, Don’t Go in the Woods instead plays more like the skeleton of Wrong Turn fleshed out with a combination of second-rate Once and Glee tunes. It’s a marriage that D’Onofrio doesn’t use for a splatter-genre critique or music-biz satire; despite a transparent twist during its climax that practically begs for rimshot accompaniment, the film has no interest in saying anything about creativity, sacrifice, and the lengths to which people will go in order to achieve their artistic and celebrity dreams. Moreover, the director is so disinterested in generating terror—or even feigning interest in providing a real serial-killer story—that, for the 83-minute movie’s first hour, the only hints of menace or dread come courtesy of a brief intro glimpse of a woman being attacked, a few subsequent shots of a malevolent figure and some dismembered limbs, and an abrupt car attack devoid of suspense. So lethargic is the entire affair that, when the action finally gets around to young people being sledgehammered to death in a variety of uncreative ways, the acts seem less like terrifying crimes than mercy killings designed to spare audiences from spending any more torturous time in these ciphers’ company.