I’m what you might call an easy lay for genre and generally weird fare. I’ll give just about anything a chance if it’s offbeat and off-the-wall. The one thing that I ask from these types of movies, or fringe entertainment in general (hey, Lucha Underground, how ya doin?) is commitment. Commitment to a premise, a performance, or even a genre is a requirement for me. Unlike its fellow witch-themed After Dark festival selection, The Wretched (which I reviewed as part of our Fantasia Festival coverage this summer), Jordan Barker’s Witches in the Woods just never seems to decide what it wants to be, where it wants to go, or even how to get there.
College students Jill (Hannah Kasulka), Derek (Craig Arnold), Alison (Sasha Clements), Philip (Corbin Bleu), Bree (Humberly González), and brothers Tod (Kyle Mac) and Matty (Alexander De Jordy) are traveling to a Massachusetts ski retreat when a wrong turn leaves their SUV disabled in the freezing wilderness. As they fight among themselves and try to find a way out of the desolate landscape, Alison’s behaviour becomes erratic and violent, seemingly triggered by a black crow that appears now and then, but this may also be an effect of a very real trauma in her past. There’s also a love triangle, a weird hunter who seems to have gotten lost on his way to a different movie, some of the same black crows hanging from trees, and a pamphlet about witches. Does that sound like a lot of disconnected stuff whose relevance to the plot seems questionable at best? Welcome to my world, reader.
Witches in the Woods is the textbook definition of ‘throwing a lot against the wall’. By never picking a direction, it quickly becomes unfocused and non-committal. Honestly, there’s not much wrong with the actual execution of the film – effects are really well done (when the film decides to show you what’s going on), it’s well-acted, and the natural scenery of Northern Ontario provides ample opportunity for spookiness. But the whole thing is let down by a script that never deigns to answer any of the questions it puts forth, or to resolve the loose threads that litter the woods here. What I find frustrating is that a lot of these ideas are pretty good ones, and any one or two of them might make for a more compelling experience. But without the commitment to a concept, the experience of Witches In The Woods is waiting for a shoe to drop, and frustration when it never does.