The Movie Waffler New Release Review - BRIGHTWOOD | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - BRIGHTWOOD

New Release Review - BRIGHTWOOD
An estranged couple are inexplicably unable to leave a woodland path.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Dane Elcar

Starring: Dana Berger, Max Woertendyke

Brightwood poster

Movies love dropping an estranged couple into a fraught scenario that forces them to work together to find a way out, usually leading to a happy ending where both parties realise they belong together. For his feature debut, writer/director Dane Elcar gives us a couple on the brink of divorce, but in this case the apprehension largely comes from the notion that they may end up stuck together forever.

Brightwood review

We find Jen (Dana Berger) and Dan (Max Woertendyke) the morning after a party at which the latter drunkenly disgraced himself, not for the first time it seems. Jen just wants to go for her morning jog and listen to a podcast that offers advice to those pondering divorce, but Dan wants to talk things over, convinced that their relationship still has a future. "We've been together a long time," Dan says. "A stupid amount of time," Jen replies. Jen's athletic frame and Dan's paunch serve as a physical suggestion of the diverging life paths the two are on, but for this morning they take the same path, one that loops around a scenic pond.

As Jen runs on ahead, leaving a wheezing Dan behind, something seems off. She loops back around to Dan quicker than she expected, as though the path has somehow gotten shorter. The trail that serves as an exit appears to have vanished. When Jen and Dan split up to find a way out, Dan pops up behind Jen even though he took off in a different direction. There seems to be no way to leave the pond, with any attempts simply bringing Jen and Dan back to the point they set out from. It's as though they're stuck in a video game with a limited map. To make things worse there are sinister hooded figures lurking in the woods (leading to a couple of jump scares reminiscent of the back of the diner scene in Mulholland Drive), with screams echoing in the distance.

Brightwood review

Brightwood is a trippy throwback to the wave of low budget mindfuck movies that emerged at the start of the 2010s: think Resolution, YellowBrickRoad and best of all, Coherence. As the film's narrative begins to bend in on itself you may be tempted to rewind to check if you failed to pick up on some important plot point. To do so would be a disservice to the clever structure of Elcar's film. While it may appear to have lost the plot in points, it all comes together in a satisfying manner, leading to a grim conclusion Rod Serling would be proud of.

Elcar's Twilight Zone-esque tale makes for a canny allegory for failed relationships. Those stuck in a loveless marriage often feel like there's no way out, trapped by legal proceedings, children or cultural factors. As it becomes clear that various timelines are intersecting, leading Jen and Dan to encounter and battle various incarnations of themselves, it becomes a metaphor for the marriage counsellor's advice that a troubled couple become the best version of themselves. Some of the horror comes from our uncertainty over which version of Jen and Dan we're actually following, with Elcar pulling off some clever bait and switches to muddy the narrative waters.

Brightwood review

With a single location and a cast of two, Brightwood should prove inspirational for those setting down the no-to-low-budget indie filmmaking path. But this is no mere case of an exploitative filmmaker heading into the woods with a camera and a pair of actors, something we've seen too many times in the years since The Blair Witch Project. This is a film that has been clearly devised at the script stage, making it a rare indie horror that wins us over with its storytelling as much as its scares and suspense. I look forward to seeing where the trail takes Elcar.

 is on UK/ROI VOD from March 21st.

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