Monday, 6 July 2015


I'm sure David Ryan Keith's The Redwood Massacre isn't the first Scottish slasher film, but it IS the first one that I've seen.
Taking the tried and trusted formula of a group of youngsters on a getaway to an isolated retreat, then transporting it to the Highlands is an astute move, but it takes more than admittedly breathtaking scenery to make a slasher flick resonate.
Has this one Scot what it takes? Or will you be desperate for everybody to hurry up and get kilt? (My sincerest apologies to my Scottish readers!)
Read on…


Dir: David Ryan Keith
Starring: Lisa Cameron, Rebecca Wilkie, Adam Coutts, Lisa Livingstone, Mark Wood, Lee Hutcheon, Benjamin Selway, Alec Westwood, Liam Matheson, Morgan Faith Keith, Claire Bearn, Jamie Butler, Cheryl Bernard

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Bookish Pam (Cameron) heads into the woods with her best friend Jess (Wilkie) for a hike to an unusual destination, the infamous and abandoned Redwood House. The site of a gruesome family murder, Pam and Jess are heading to the farm for the 20th anniversary of that fateful date for a ghoulish getaway. 
As they make their way through the rugged Scottish terrain, the pair are joined by Jess' drippy ex Mark (Coutts) and his new girlfriend, bad-tempered and high-maintenance Kirsty (Livingstone). They are planning to meet some more friends at the site and love interest Bruce (Wood) is aiming to catch them up.
As tensions simmer and threaten to boil over within the group, it soon becomes clear that something else is lurking out in the wilderness. A looming and psychotic individual, sporting a scarecrow's burlap sack mask with an assortment of sharp and brutal weapons and some truly sadistic intentions.
Will the group make it to Redwood House? And if they do, what will be waiting for them?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Despite a pronounced downswing in quality and popularity over the Noughties, I am still a big fan of the slasher genre and I'm glad to see the recent resurgence of good, old fashioned slasher flicks. As a youngster I was raised on a diet of video store slashers and as such I still thrill to see a new masked maniac.
Slashers are movies that follow some far too familiar tropes, but they are all the more fun for it.
The makers of The Redwood Massacre clearly recognise the market for their film and they willingly embrace the expectations that come with it. Keith and co aren't trying to reinvent the wheel — instead they are trying to give us a decent, blood and guts, stalk and slash film, and they do a good job with it.
That's not to say that The Redwood Massacre just blends in with the crowd — it has a few distinguishing features that make it a bit more memorable. Obviously its Scottish location and cast stand out. In a couple of scenes the scenery is breathtaking (between this and Skyfall, I've been convinced that I need to go there), and even the forest has a decidedly British feel compared with the near-campground woodland of the U.S.-set Friday the13th and its various rip-offs. It feels denser, more dank, and has a more oppressive and foreboding feel. This is undoubtedly helped by the atmospheric cinematography, also carried out by Keith. 
I mentioned the Scottish cast, and one of the things I most liked was that they were actual adults, rather than unfeasibly perfect teenagers. That's not saying they're an unattractive bunch — far from it — but they seem more real, like actual people who've lived normal lives, rather than pretty, Hollywood-produced drones who are entirely unrelatable. 
For the most part, they're also quite accomplished thespians.
Cameron shoulders the burden of the lead and she's well suited to the task. She's likeable and gives her character a suitably earnest air. Her character really is put through the wringer and she does a good job of portraying the horrifying trauma that she is forced to endure. This is very good work indeed.
As our male lead and (what at first glance certainly seems like) the hero in the making, Wood is also very good.
He actually gets very little in the way of dialogue exchanges with the other characters, so Bruce's arc is told almost entirely through his actions and reactions to what he encounters. It's not easy but Wood pulls it off. 
Arguably the showstealer is Livingstone as the wonderfully moody Kirsty. I've often thought it must be more fun for an actor to portray an unlikeable character, and judging by the relish evident in Livingstone's delivery of each cutting, resentful line, this certainly seems to be the case. She appears to be having a ball, bitching and whinging, making Kirsty a huge pain in the arse in her earlier scenes. What is a bigger testament to Livingstone's talent is the way in which she actually manages to get the audience caring for her by the end of the film. This is no mean feat, so congratulations, Ms Livingstone!
Wilkie and Coutts have a little less screentime, but they prove capable and never let the side down.
Finally, both Selway and Hutcheon nail their roles. Selway portrays the villain, credited as Evil Highlander (although I prefer to call him Farmer Bagface) and he is awesome throughout. A silent role, Selway still fills his character with menace. The silent, setting masked maniac may be a genre archetype, but it's one that works. In The Redwood Massacre, the extremely intimidating Selway shows why.
Hutcheon plays another genre trope, what Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon dubbed 'the Ahab'. A character who has been wronged by the film's monstrous antagonist and is now its sworn nemesis. Hutcheon plays the role impeccably, he is tough, bitter, palpably damaged and all but consumed by the darkness he has seen. It's a fun character brought to life through an accomplished performance.
So the characters are decent and well realised by a talented cast, and the film looks good, but there's more to The Redwood Massacre than that.
Director Keith crafts some fine scares and doesn't shy away from some decidedly bloody gore sequences. Farmer Bagface pulls off some seriously sadistic acts with his victims, ranging from sudden brutal hack and slash deaths to slow, protracted and mean-spirited torture. That alone will be music to the ears of genre fans who have become starved of good old-fashioned slasher bloodshed in recent years.
Keith also wrote the story, which (while it doesn't exactly break any new ground) still gives us a couple of fine moments. One of those would certainly be the shockingly bleak flashback sequence to the original spate of murders at the Redwood House. With a great performance by Matheson as the insane (and quite possibly possessed) Farmer (pre-Bagface), it's an atmospheric and violent sequence that totally hits the spot.
Like so many other moments in the movie, here Keith shows that he knows exactly what he's doing. He's definitely a filmmaker to look out for in the future.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): As a slasher film, The Redwood Massacre falls victim to many of the genre's shortcomings. The plot stretches credulity at time and the characters to continue to make decisions that will have you scratching your head at times.
The final confrontation between Hutcheon's Hunter and Farmer Bagface the Evil Highlander is an especially infuriating plot development. WIth so much good work immediately preceding it, the payoff was disappointing to say the least.
I mentioned that the story of The Redwood Massacre doesn't exactly stray from the formula and, to some viewers, that could be a serious black mark against it. I find the familiarity of a slasher film comforting, like a favourite, warm old jumper on a sunday afternoon, but if you're sick and tired of a sub genre that several people have already lost all patience for, The Redwood Massacre certainly won't change your mind.
It contains all the cliches that the genre can hold and the simplistic plot line is extremely linear. Furthermore, it's pretty damn predictable too. Within about 10 minutes of starting the film I'm pretty that most of you will be able to guess exactly what will happen, to whom, and in which order. These events are still presented in an entertaining way, but if you're after twists and turns, this is not the movie for you.
Some of the characters are given very little in the way of development. WIth such a rich backstory and several complicated relationships implied early on, it is a shame that less is sone with these characters. Obviously the 10 Little Indians-style, one-by-one death nature of a slasher film means that some characters have a shorter lifespan (and with it less screen time), but it would have been nice to see a little more interaction between them Farmer Bagface got down to doing his decidedly bloody thing with them.
Finally, it's worth pointing out that this is a low-budget effort. It does a pretty good job with what it has, but every now and then the picture, sound, effects and even the acting feel a little rough around the edges. This is certainly not as serious a drawback as I've seen in some micro budget genre efforts, and thankfully Keith and his crew never attempt to overreach beyond their means.

THE VERDICT: The Redwood Massacre is actually pretty good fun. It has a cool villain, a lovely setting, some deliciously depraved murder scenes and a talented group of homegrown talent in front of the camera. It's certainly not a gamechanger, but it does play the game well and if you're at all interested in checking out a movie that feels a lot like Dog Soldiers meets Friday the 13th by way of Charlie's Farm (and who wouldn't be!), this is the movie for you.
You can pre-order The Redwood Massacre at Amazon here for a very reasonable price, or check out the film's Facebook page for more info. Give it a Like while you're there too, show Scottish indie horror some love.

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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