Don't Go In The Lightning Bug's Lair #13: Don't Go In the Woods (2010)
Seeing as you've ignored the warning sign and come right on into the Lair, I guess it is only fair that I share with you the first entry in the Don't Go In The Lightning Bug's Lair Halloween countdown. Before I start talking about today's flick, the Vincent D'Onofrio helmed Don't Go in the Woods, let me remind you again that there was a "Don't" film that didn't make this countdown. When I first read about this film, the idea of a slasher musical intrigued me in the best way. I suppose I had visions of Brian De Palma's musical horror Phantom of the Paradise rumbling around in my head, but again, this was directed by D'Onofrio not De Palma and the songs, well, they could have used some serious help from Paul Williams. Unfortunately, when it comes to this slasher, the execution of the victims isn't done any better than the execution of the whole film. That is to say, it isn't done very well at all.
Nick (Matt Sbeglia), the flop haired leader of a band, comes up with an incredible idea. In order to score their big break, he packs up the band, confiscates their phones (which later he destroys) and drugs, and takes them deep into a secluded wood to pen the five songs that will allow them to break into the big time. While I'm still unclear how roughing it allows one to write better songs, the rest of the band agree to the venture. Happily, the guys are soon joined by an unexpected gaggle of girls, and the songwriting soon devolves into passing a guitar around the campfire. Meanwhile, someone is stalking the band in the woods, and between musical interludes (which don't pertain to the film or advance the plot one whit) the guys and gals begin to get wacked by an axe toting baddie. This, of course, in no way inhibits the desire to sing more songs.
I've been in quite a few bands in my time. I've sat through many a songwriting session where I wished that a masked killer would come chop up some of my band mates. However, if such a thing occurred, then I can say with absolute certainly that I wouldn't be coming up with a clever couplet or refrain. I'd be making like somebody mixing down the low end. I'd get my bass out of there. Naturally, that wouldn't make for much of a movie (not that this is much of a movie), but the fact that the characters don't even pause from singing to acknowledge that anything is wrong until about half their numbers dwindle away, just doesn't make sense. D'Onofrio himself said it was hard to maintain tension in Don't Go in the Woods because music dispels tension in the plot. I consider this completely untrue. What he meant was whiny emo songs make tension impossible, and when your characters don't seem that concerned about their fate, what chance doesn't the audience have of caring about their life or death?
Vincent D'Onofrio would like folks to think of him as a mixture between Orson Welles (who he portrayed in Tim Burton's Ed Wood) and Marlon Brando, and there was a time that I wouldn't have completely disagreed. Of course, that was a time when the role that loomed largest in my mind when I thought of D'Onofrio was that of the doomed Private Pyle in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. The problem is that he completely obliterated that image and any memory of his previous work in my mind when he took on the role of Detective Frank Goren on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. With his portrayal of the detective who needed only to crane his neck into an unnatural position in order to solve a crime, Vinnie made it incredibly hard to take him seriously as an actor due to all the embellishments and ticks he piled into the character. With Don't Go in the Woods, he's now made it impossible for me to think of him as a solid film maker. So forget the Welles-Brando dreams, and stick with interesting character roles like the noseless fellow from Salton Sea or the weirdo killer in The Cell.
I'm spending so much time talking about D'Onofrio because there's precious little else to speak on in this movie. Lead actor Sbeglia is the only defined character at all, and by defined, I mean I wanted to punch him in the nose. The only acting worthy of note doesn't come until the film’s final minute when Eric Bogosian, the actor and play write who also slummed it on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, shows up for a minor, minor scene and still outclasses the rest of the actors who had 89 more minutes than him. D'Onofrio made this film in twelve days with a cast that he stated he found "walking around town". Some of them were coffee shop workers for crying out loud. I don't need the person making my Venti Soy White Chocolate Latte, who happens to play a little guitar, also deciding to take a stab at acting because D'Onofrio is between projects and has nothing better to do than this and invent new ways to twist his neck. (I can think of a few ways I would like to twist his neck.)
So if out of the 14 films I dug up for this list, this one made it and one other one didn't, just imagine how bad that other one was. Don't Go in the Woods has plenty more "don'ts" involved with it outside of the titular advice in where not to hike. Don't put songs in your musical that have nothing to do with the plot. If you do, then it's not a musical, but rather a movie with lots of music, like a concert film from people you've never heard of whom occasionally appear to be killed. If you do make a slasher like this, don't let all the kills happen off-screen. I know the budget for this wasn't much, but Vinnie; seriously, you're telling me that Bill Z. Bub can come up with more fake blood and squibs than you? Don't make the characters so bland that I didn't know their names and was completely okay with it. And, finally, don't use the name of a movie made thirty years earlier and then claim that your title had nothing to do with it. That's just bullshit, and I don't even have to crane my neck around to figure that one out.
Don't worry, in a couple days I'll be back with number 12 on the countdown, and you won't believe the improvement between this lot and the next.