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First Look Review - THE REDWOOD MASSACRE

A group of campers find themselves stalked by a masked killer.


Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: David Ryan Keith

Starring: Mark Wood, Lisa Cameron, Lisa Livingstone, Rebecca Wilkie




"Completists will get a kick out of exploring The Redwood Massacre, but for the rest of us, this film needs to turn over a new leaf."


Darkened woods. Wet and scared whimpers on the soundtrack. In close up, a teenage girl’s wide open eyes nervously metronome from left to right. We pull back to see the poor kid clutching her stomach, vainly attempting to stop the bloody, recently perforated, contents seeping through. Look out behind you, first girl, there’s the culprit! A big hulking chap in a checked shirt and a sack cloth mask, carrying a sharp object. Sackcloth swiftly catches up with the nameless victim and proceeds to brutally add to, then put her out of, her misery. Thus begins low-budget, Brit horror The Redwood Massacre.
If you were playing slasher bingo, you’d almost certainly have a line by now (woods - tick, scared girl - check), and be well on your way to a full (haunted) house. Keep hold of that card then, because, just like its Vorhees-esque villain (Friday the 13th Part 2’s mask, Hodder’s height, and the same disturbed kid growing up in the woods backstory), The Redwood Massacre is lumbering, senseless and, throughout its running time, simply serves to remind you of other, more established, slasher films. 
Cut to our rag bag group of kids (tick) on their archetypal camping trip (check), whispering about a doomed legend that abides within the woods - bingo! With slasher bingo complete, it’s time for a new game; the time honoured horror play of who gets offed the first. Will it be the sexy one? The shy one that carries a torch for another one? The one who someone carries a torch for? The one in a ‘vegetarian’ t shirt (my fave - I was rooting for her all the way through)? As these kids tramp through the undergrowth, they engage in de rigueur small talk about getting laid, and make vague allusions to the ‘biggest party of the year’ taking place somewhere in the woods, the reason why they are roughing it (although we don’t see many other revellers en route to this improbable shindig - maybe Sackcloth murdered them all to death). There’s also a nascent love triangle, but that’s about it as far as character development is concerned. These kids don’t even seem to get on. In fact, they seem to absolutely hate each other! No one expects subtle and developed characterisation from a slasher film, but the ones that are best loved always have likeable, or at least memorable, characters that you can root for - think of whiny Franklin in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Glen and his crap sound effects in Nightmare on Elm Street, or even dreamy teen queen Jay in It Follows. The Redwood Massacre’s bunch just seem interchangeable and, for a group of fun loving party goers, rather grumpy.
Perhaps that is the crucial component for a slasher keeper; catchy heroes/victims. Without that you have no investment in the narrative, and are merely left with a cat and mouse, killer and victim dynamic that’s been done before and will be done again and again with the stabbing monotony of a masked mummy’s boy’s machete. It isn’t even as if these kids do anything especially transgressive either - no drugs, trespassing, or even a quick snog - they’re just blameless dicks who decided to go camping in the wrong woods. At one point, one of our gang even chastises the others for their ‘alcohol consumption’- on a camping trip, in a slasher film! What the hell type of movie does he think he’s in? Perhaps he should team up with the killer, to further spread his killjoy gospel. Because, ultimately, that’s the issue with The Redwood Massacre, its essential lack of fun. Occasionally, the gore and violence is imaginative, gruelling and impressively realised (especially the hapless victim that ends up with a saw head…), and, in another highpoint towards the end, an Ahab figure rocks up and barks amazing lines like ‘YOU THINK THIS IS SOME KIND OF FUCKING GAME??’ and ‘ONE ROUND. MAKE IT COUNT’ (he says the former to a girl who has just seen her best friends killed, and the latter while thrusting a shot gun at her, and he is awesome). I’d have loved to have seen more of him than those whiney teens; it turns out his daughter was offed by Sackcloth, so at least there’s a motivation there, a reason for him to be part of a story, and not simply fodder to be felled.
You can’t make a slasher without brutalising a few bodies, and you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. And, in a sense, the slasher film is the omelette of horror; the ingredients are basic, elemental, and the process of production straightforward. But, like a tortilla, it take a special sort of skill to make a slasher film that stands out. Completists will get a kick out of exploring The Redwood Massacre, but for the rest of us, this film needs to turn over a new leaf.




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