'Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight' is a bloody, brutal, and familiar slasher tale that finds the devil in practical effects details worth another group of campers fed to maniacs like lambs to the slaughter
- 🏕️ The kills. Seriously.
- 🏕️ Whatever combo of makeup, latex, and ingredients make the film's monsters.
- 🏕️ Captures the cinematic glean of being outdoors.
- 🏕️ Old dog.
- 🏕️ No new tricks.
Here’s the truth: you’ve seen Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight before. In a different package, by a different filmmaker, in a different era. Bartosz M. Kowalski flaunts his knowledge of American-bred 80s slashers down to the campground location, as his Polish homage is a direct template-trace of an entire subgenre made famous by iconic killers stalking isolated woodlands. It’s the ever-prominent argument of tribute versus replication, as Kowalski assembles his mid-hike massacre from pieces of other genre puzzles. That said, the slashings are impressively practical, the narrative simple but obscure enough in molding its villain origins, and cinematography crisp. If you’re comfortable walking the same worn-down path, not paying mind to familiarity? You might discover entertainment and terror in them there woods.
At “Adrenalina,” counselors aim to rid Poland’s youth of their internet obsessions by going cold-turkey for a week of outdoor adventures. A dosage of fresh air hopes to cure addicts like Julek (Michal Lupa), a video game streamer with over 900k YouTube subscribers, of their unhealthy ways. Iza (Gabriela Muskala) takes charge of a smaller subgroup of campers and embarks on a three-day expedition with nothing but their wits and essential camping equipment. What’s the worst that can happen? Well, suppose you’re Zosia (Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz). In that case, it’s watching two lumbering twins covered in boils murder your disconnected companions one by one, starting with pack leader Iza, with no way to dial for help. Technology isn’t so evil when it’s your only hope for survival, eh?
There’s no downplaying a scripted reliance on tropes and cliches as horror elements present themselves. Julek spends most of his dialogue reciting rules from other horror movies (having sex and dying, being unattractive and dying, etc.). Flashbacks reveal trauma in Zosia’s life, making her another final girl marked with a tormented past (parents died in a car accident). Daniel (Sebastian Dela) is the overcompensating masculine hunk, Aniela (Wiktoria Gasiewska) the “bimbo” stereotype who wants to be seen as more, and Bartek (Stanislaw Cywka) the gay son whose lifestyle is ignored. If this were an SNL sketch about “Things You See In Every Slasher Movie,” the characters are a dead giveaway.
Kowalski and co-writers Jan Kwiecinski and Mirella Zaradkiewicz are dedicated to the nondescript obscurity that has introduced many slasher villains. Our introduction to “Monster Twin #1 and #2” is through their mother tumbling down basement steps while trying to lug an animal carcass behind for feeding time. Said monsters, looking like replicant designs of bile-spewing, blubbery Boomers from Left 4 Dead, escape. There’s a backstory to some asteroid the brutes, in a flashback as wee lads, stuck under their beds before it cracks and infects them with a viscous black goo, but it’s an oddball insert. Here are your monsters, some symbiote or alien liquid possesses them, and they like killing teens who complain about no WIFI. Oh, and the title is a reference to some childhood storybook mama used to read before sleepy dreams. That’s pretty much all Kowalski's legend has to offer.
As the corpses mount, supporting characters are introduced only to enact devious but predictable twists. Actions are torn from “Horror 101: What Not To Do” playbooks. Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight is almost comically redundant. The issue is, I never could tell if that’s intentional. Kowalski's fine line between horror and comedy doesn’t favor meta indulgences. Its simple recreation uses existing blueprints, subbing in cannibalistic zomboids (or whatever) as this film’s antagonistic psychopaths. Teenagers fornicate, adults are removed from the picture early, and there are multiple gory offerings to slasher cinema gods. The question becomes, do you need anything more?
My answer is more complicated, but with brevity in mind, it’s a yes. Where Come Play fails in its unenthusiastic usages of haunted house spooks, Kowalski’s enthusiasm emphasizes what matters most in this subgenre: mutilation. Effects are appropriately practical whenever possible, including a stupendous ax-swing that splits a police officer top-to-bottom, guts sloppily thudding onto concrete. It’s a film that remains surface-value when voicing the dangers of screen addiction because that’s just a way to stop smartphones from complicating tension, but still has fun with the theme when a priest comes to bless away the campers’ sinful tendencies (improvising a techno-horror prayer). Expect another “Don’t Go Into The Woods” riff that plays all the hits, captured by Cezary Stolecki’s standout, landscape aware cinematography, yet Kowalski commits to his film’s bit. From the twins’ makeup effects to woodchipper kills to the silliness that permeates most dumbfounding slashers the creators would claim as influential.
It’s Halloween. You’re on Netflix. You’re scrolling aimlessly, searching for something new to tickle your October fancy. If you like ‘em bloodthirsty, not very plot-heavy, and of a throwback era? Nobody Sleeps In The Woods should fill that void for a violent hour-and-forty minute duration. Should you require reinvention, such as Cabin In The Woods? A horror diversion that subverts everything fans have memorized about their longtime favorites? Bartosz M. Kowalski is here to prove that Poland can hack-em-up as good as the rest, but past all the meatgrinder highlights, there’s not much worth digestion.
Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight is available on Netflix now.
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