Monday, October 10, 2016

Review: The Devil’s Complex

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

The Devil’s Complex
(aka The Devil's Forest; The Devil Within)
Directed by Mark Evans                                  
Lonely Crow Productions / itn distribution / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2016

The Hoia-Baciu Forest is a real place in the Transylvania area of Romania, just outside the city of Cluj, that is known as one of the most haunted forests in the world. UFOs, ghosts, weird plants and trees, and images appearing in photos are reportedly common there. It’s also infamous as a “Bermuda Triangle” where people disappear. While the name of this film was originally The Devil Complex,” it kinda makes sense that the DVD would be changed to add the word “Forest,” not to mention being able to cash in on another film with a similar name about a mysterious woods in Japan.

To be honest, I’m a bit apprehensive about starting this one, for two reasons. No, it’s not because I’m afraid it will scare me, but rather that it’s a found footage film about a trio of filmmakers scared in the wood who – and here’s the apprehensive part – “were never seen again.” Sound familiar?

I am not one of the cult of The Blair Witch Project (1999) [BWP], and found nearly the whole thing extremely tedious, as I do with many other found footage films. The whole term “never seen again” already tells the viewer way too much. And I’ll tell yaz right now, if I see someone crying into the camera by flashlight with snot running down their nose, I’m gonna lose it. But rather than whine more, I’m turning the film on. See you on the other side (pun intended).

Maria Simona Arsu
Right at the front, we’re told they die. Woo-hoo, so no spoiler alert. Three go into the woods (no Stephen Sondheim pun nor wit here): there is a student, Rachel (nerd-cute Maria Simona Arsu), and two macho putzes, Tom the interpreter (Patrick Sebastian Negrean, and the camera guy, Joe (Marius Dan Munteanu... yes, all three actors use three names). Taking them as a guide is Mr. Dogaru (the deep-toned Bill Hutchens, who was in the last two The Human Centipede films).

Near the start, after immediately not liking the guys here, we are presented with a BWP – er – homage with the actors asking the local populace (mostly non-actors, I believe) for stories about the forest, and it certainly appears they are being honest of the culture of the place, including one amusing skeptical guy.

For some reason, they pick the dead of winter, with the forest full of snow, as the time to go venturing, giving the first big whaaaaaaat? moment.  I’ve seen films of the actual forest, and even though people are afraid of it, there are defined and easy to follow trails, so why go when snow hides all that?

Now I won’t give away much of the actual woooooo (to be read as a spooky sound) moments of the film, but I will talk about the framework, hopefully without too many spoilers.

After a while, deep into the trek and a third of the way into the story, the guide runs off, leaving the trio with no map, no food, and a lot of anger and especially angst. So they walk through the snow, and bicker. And walk through the snow. And walk through the snow. There’s nothing more exciting that watching people walk through the snow except possibly watching people keyboarding. Or watching people running through a snowy forest in the dark by the light of the camera, as also occurs (again, BWP).

And that brings me to another question, and that is how long does a camera battery last? How many did they bring? All I know is they run the camera the whole time and never mention new batteries. And why am I thinking about that during a film that is supposed to keep me jittery?

Yes, there is the guy giving his final talk in the dark tent with the light of the camera, but thankfully no snot, just drinking from a flask. Yet another question is if we are going to spend so much time with these three characters, why can’t they be likeable, so you feel something when anything happens. For at least two of them, I think of the Darwin Awards: Really? Deep forest in the winter. With snow. In what is known to be a dangerous place, i.e., no great loss to humanity, especially a fictional one.

This really is a winterized version of BWP, with the creepy house at the beginning rather than at the end (again, I’m sure it’s a homage). All the tropes are there, the running and walking and kvetching and being scared about… what again? Boy, I really want to discuss the ending right now, but I won’t.

What blood there is appears to have the consistency of chocolate syrup, and certainly no exposed body parts in this weather.

The only extra is the trailer, and not even a cursory offer of chapter choices. The production is micro-budget to the point where the largest expense, other than catering, was probably the art design of the poster or DVD cover.

The film is like a cross between a haunted winter evening Robert Frost poem and Poe, but without the eloquence. Perhaps it’s because it’s become cliché? Nah, I felt this way about hand-held found footage films since I first saw BWP. Did I mention how much this is like BWP? If you are/were a fan of BWP or hand-held running, or even found footage films, this may be right up your alley. Me? I’m taking some Dramamine and going to bed.

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