Color, 2015, 75 mins. 20 secs.
Directed by Roger Boyer
Starring Laurel McArthur, Veronica Ternopolski, Jalin Desloges, Weronika Sokalska, Graham Silver, Jesse Laing, Dennis Scullard
Zellco (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Proving that the neo-slasher boom won't be slowing down in the near future, here's a colorful Canadian throwback offering hailing from Manitoba. Thankfully it is indeed very, very Canadian, which adds immeasurably to the charm and sets it apart from the usual DIY stalk-and-slash fare turning up seemingly every week. The effectiveness of the deliberately formulaic dialogue and '80s-style ambiance is definitely a mileage may vary approach for some audiences now, but if you're hankering for a modest, violent wilderness shocker, look no further.
Emily (McArthur) is feeling down about her abusive and deeply unappealing boyfriend, Peter (Scullard), so her three best friends decide to throw an impromptu camping road trip to lift her spirits. Michelle (Ternopolski), sister Francine (Desloges), and Jolene (Sokalska) find Peter in a particularly foul mood when it's time to pick up Emily, who ends up sneaking off anyway. Shutterbug Jolene keeps her new camera rolling to capture ever second of the festivities, including lots of stories about guy problems -- but they have no idea how bad those problems will get after Peter snaps and knifes one of his buddies to death. Soon the friends and everyone they run into becomes a target far away from civilization as the woods turn into a bloody battleground for survival.
Obviously shot on the cheap, Dark Forest manages to compensate by throwing in a lot of audience-pleasing ingredients including a wildly implausible smack down between the killer and one of the leads, a pounding synthwave soundtrack mixed with some '80s-style pop songs, and enough peripheral bloody kills to keep the body count relatively high for a film that clocks in at 68 minutes before the end credits roll. The thin storyline is filled out with other random characters to provide some knife fodder including a few extra guys out camping as well, plus a buddy of Peter's who tags along because he apparently has terrible taste in friends; however, it's the core bond between the main female characters that holds it together with Jolene and Michelle getting the most scene-stealing moments.
Available digitally as a no-frills release, Dark Forest gets a much more robust treatment on Blu-ray and DVD from Zellco. Since this is a recent film the presentation looks vivid and accurate for the often heavily saturated, intentionally stylized aesthetic. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is effective but very loud at times, so keep your remote handy; optional English subtitles are also provided. Also included in an "original cut," clocking in at 69m34s; it runs tighter, obviously, and may be preferred by some viewers as it gets to the point faster and features completely different, more traditional end credits. Image quality on this one looks about the same, though audio is English Dolby Digital 2.0 in this case (with no subs). A brief behind-the-scenes featurette (4m10s) is basically an EPK with director Roger Boyer, the producers, and the cast briefly explaining their roles, with a peek at a pitch trailer called Black 4rest (ouch) that led to this project. Amusingly, Scullard is interviewed while covered in stage blood, which seems appropriate. That concept trailer is also included here in its entirety (with a much snowier setting and an apparent supernatural angle), along with a 30-second trailer, theatrical trailer, four TV spots, and a bonus trailer for Frackin' Zombies. If you think that's it, well, this puppy has no less than eight audio commentaries (thankfully it's a short movie!): actors Matthew Stefanson and Trevor Kristjanson, Ternopolski and Scullard, Desloges, Jesse Laing, producer David Zellis, "technical commentary" with Craig Guiboche, "guest commentary" with editor Dan Choina, and (on the original shorter cut) sound mixer Alan Braverman. The craft tracks will obviously be for a more specialized audience, but it is interesting to hear about the different mixes created for the two cuts, the manipulations done to the digital lensing to give it a retro/hyper colorful feel, and the logistics of shooting in the middle of the woods. Between all of them you'll get a few nudges about how this should have been called something like "bright forest," too. Apart from the solo Desloges one (which is okay but has a lot of dead space), the actor tracks are extremely lively with the Ternopolski and Scullard one (both commentary newcomers) probably taking top honors with a loose, funny conversation that plays in stark contrast to their rapport in the actual film.
Reviewed on November 3, 2018.