Saturday, March 31, 2018

Redwood – review

Director: Tom Paton

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

I had noticed this was being made but it snuck out when released over in the UK, on DVD and stream. The press it got during production was centred on the appearance of Nicholas Brendon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Blood on the Highway) in a cameo – and cameo it is, though welcome.

The production is a UK one but the National park setting felt American, especially given the park rangers and general flora and fauna (at one point wolves are mentioned, if not seen, for instance). There is also a rather impressive folk horror like altar and it is there we start.

the altar
A woman (Jessica-Jane Stafford) drags a bier with a man (Luke D'Silva) on it to a mausoleum. Inside is a giant, twisted icon rearing over the room, an altar to an ancient God it would seem. The man is upset but she says it is as it must be, she reminds him that he had said he would do anything, she slits his throat. He falls to the floor and an ichor drips down the bony finger of the icon that she gathers in her hands and laps up.

Mike Beckingham as Josh
A 4x4 sits at the side of the road as Beth (Tatjana Nardone) searches through a bag in the boot and Josh (Mike Beckingham) has a wee in a field. As we get to know the pair we discover they are in a relationship but he has been diagnosed with Leukaemia. He is a musician and his manager, Nick (Nick Sadler), has suggested they go to Redwood National Park – there is a campsite at the mountain top with a waterfall where Josh can do some soul searching.

The Park has signs warning against off-trail hiking and, when they pull into the park, a ranger, Steve (Muzz Khan), also pulls up and, whilst a little awkward in his communication, does offer to give them a ride to the ranger station near the camp site (it’s a good three-day hike) and when this is refused gives them a map of the park. They are told to stay out of the grey areas on the map and that they’ll know if they stray there.

Josh and Beth
What makes the film is the relationship between Josh and Beth. It perhaps doesn’t come across as romantic (but one would suggest the news of the cancer has suppressed that), rather they come across as a couple genuinely fighting through the hand life has dealt them, with all the fear, anger, disbelief and upset that brings. Josh comes across as a little petulant and maybe arrogant but we see that mask slip when alone and anger/upset overcomes him. During this moment he cuts his hand quite badly.

Nicholas Brendon as Vincent
When he gets back to camp he discovers Vincent (Nicholas Brendon) there. He is a ranger – animal control – who travels with a pack full of pointy sticks. He gets firewood for the couple – after Josh refuses a lift to the station for stitches in his hand. Before he leaves them he checks that they are not heading for the mausoleum. They look blankly at him and he explains that some people come looking for a miracle cure but there isn’t one. Of course, they eventually go off track and take a short cut through the grey area.

vampires - a bugger to screenshot
It is in here we get the vampires. They mainly stay at a distance at first and are used very sparingly in the film. They take a bloody t-shirt from the camp, shriek, lurk, harry and leave ammonia smelling residues (guano?). The way they are filmed they are mostly shapes moving quickly in the night – a bugger to screenshot but effective in film. There is a nice referential moment when Josh admits that all he knows about vampires is from Buffy. They have black eyes, fangs, are nocturnal, avoid flares and are animalistic.

lighting up a flare
So the film is effective but hinges on a twist that was telegraphed really early on – or at least so I thought. What took me beyond said telegraphing was the investment in the characters and the nihilism (perhaps, or selfishness) that Tom Paton instilled in the story. The story itself was somewhat of an origin story and was fairly thin but It was definitely helped along by engaging leads and a pleasant cameo. There was a lot left unanswered, especially around the mausoleum.

Not the greatest vampire film but I appreciate that it did something a bit different with the genre but could have expanded on that a lot more. Nevertheless a strong 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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