She Came from the Woods: A witty, funny slasher
Funny, rounded characters8
Knowing slasher tropes8
… and something else as well8
Anton Bitel | On 29, Oct 2023
Director: Erik Bloomquist
Cast: Cara Buono, Clare Foley, Spencer List, William Sadler, Michael Park, Tyler Elliot Burke, Adam Weppler
“This isn’t The Burning,” Ashley (Sienna Hubert-Ross) tells her friend and fellow camp counsellor Ben (Dan Leahy) as he hears things and gets the jitters on their nocturnal walk through the woods. Sure enough, She Came From The Woods is not Camp Blackfoot from Tony Maylam’s The Burning. Neither is it Camp Crystal Lake from Friday the 13th, nor North Seas Cottages from Joe Giannone’s Madman nor Camp Arawak from Robert Hiltzik’s Sleepaway Camp. Yet, while this knowing feature from Erik Bloomquist (Ten Minutes To Midnight), co-written with his brother Carson, is set in Camp Briarbrook at the end of the Summer of 87, and certainly does allude to all these other 80s camp slashers, as well as to other horrors from the period, such as Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and Fritz Kiersch’s Children of the Corn, it is ultimately its own thing.
Camp Briarbrook is a family concern, founded by Gilbert McCalister (William Sadler) shortly before the death of his beloved wife Evelyn in 1945, and still run by Gilbert – along with his adult daughter, Heather (Cara Buono), and Heather’s sons, the older Shawn (Tyler Elliot Burke) and 21-year-old Peter (Spencer List), as well as a regular roster of co-ed counsellors. At the end-of-season staff party, the irresponsible, ever-joking Peter organises a ritual to raise the boogeywoman Nurse Agatha, a nebulous local legend whose name is invoked to keep the young campers in their cabins at night. Not long after, the murders will start, and Peter, his more level-headed girlfriend Lauren (Clare Foley), brave Mike (Ehad Berisha) and selfish, sleazy Dylan (Adam Weppler) must follow the traditional Briarbrook principle – “united we stand, divided we fall” – if they are to have any hope of seeing in the dawn.
There are so many ways in which She Came From The Woods isn’t The Burning. Briarbrook quickly reveals itself as Camp Curveball, where slasher conventions are repeatedly broken and surprise is the order of the day. The first of these surprises is that the characters are well-written and well-rounded, coming with idiosyncratic quirks that ensure we never quite know what any of them will say or do next. The second is that they are not ruled by dumb slasher tropes: Mike immediately insists that they call the police immediately – and later, when he suggests splitting up, Heather’s response is no less adamant than it flouts the demands of genre: “Not alone. No one alone.”
What is unfolding at Camp Briarbrook over this night is tied in with the McAlisters’ history – and with something that, in the film’s impressionistic prologue, we see happening to eight-year-old Heather (Julia Davies) back in 1945, but do not yet fully understand. This camp and the community around it harbour a secret that has long since been buried and wilfully forgotten – forgotten with such success that Peter regards actual events as mere myth for the campers’ entertainment and does not quite comprehend the sleeping beast that he is awakening. That beast embodies an even longer American history, going back to the Puritan days, of the male persecution of women, which we see continued in this film’s late 80s setting, as Dylan and Danny (played by Bloomquist) inherit and reenact older misogynies.
As we hear the family’s and camp’s backstory told and retold in ever less evasive, ever more expansive ways, we also witness a film switching wildly from one genre to another. There is, however, more than one monster here, and it may not be the one that you expect who falls victim to a very satisfying burning (and then some).
This review was originally published during FrightFest 2022.