The year is 1989. Jake (Richard Harmon) is an out of work photojournalist, looking for something new to fill his time. His past is clouded in mystery, and his current addictions aren’t as well hidden as he convinces himself. He takes a job as a caretaker and watchman of a remote wilderness lodge in the Pacific Northwest. He joins Sparky (Philip Granger), the current watchman, who quickly takes Jake under his wing, in spite of Jake’s resistance.

As Sparky is giving Jake a tour of the property, they come across an old storage shed – a project long ago abandoned, and Jake asks if he can turn it into a darkroom for his photography. Sparky happily obliges, and for a few days it seems like Jake might be on the path to getting his life together again. Slowly but surely, though, his paranoia and addiction begin to wreak havoc on his already fragile mental state. Flashbacks to the loss of his girlfriend, hearing strange sounds in the woods while he works, and a crippling addiction to basically anything he can get his hands on, including his photo development chemicals, rapidly accelerate his decline into madness. To top it all off, we get a peek into what may have gotten Jake here in the first place – his photos aren’t just ordinary photos. Once they’re developed, they show alarming glimpses into the future. 

As a category three storm approaches the island, Jake and Sparky hunker down in safety as Sparky intervenes with Jake. His behaviour has become increasingly erratic and dangerous, and it’s making it difficult for things to run smoothly at the lodge. With the storm liable to cause major damage, Sparky needs to clear the air and fast. What Jake hasn’t told him, though, is that he’s had a vision – an image has developed that spells out Sparky’s demise – and it’s not going to be pretty.

WOODLAND is a great concept delivered half-heartedly. While the performances by both Harmon and Granger are powerful, and subtle, the script itself isn’t nearly as impactful. Pacing seems to be an issue for WOODLAND, with long dry spells interspersed between mediocre action. In fact, the highest amount of action and thrill comes in the last 10 minutes or so of the film, and is over so fast the audience almost doesn’t have time to process what’s happening. There is an added twist, a callback to a brief narration at the beginning of the film, that also is presented with such a lack of tact and grace that it almost wrenches the viewer out of the story. WOODLAND is yet another film that leaves me wondering what one last pass by an editor would have done.

WOODLAND is also one of those very tricky films where the protagonist (in this case, Jake) is so generally unsympathetic that it’s difficult to invest yourself in his journey or his well being. As so much of his story is shrouded in mystery, and then revealed in tiny bite sized chunks, it’s difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt. His ungrateful and snarky attitude gets old fast, and while he’d be a perfect character to “love to hate”, considering that the story centers around him, it’s hard to stay invested or even interested.

WOODLAND hides an ugly story in a beautiful setting, and the symbolism isn’t lost here. Jake’s story is relatable and supernatural all at once, moving and infuriating, real and unreal.

5/10 stars

Runtime:1 hour 27 mins
Directed By:
Jon Silverberg
Written By:Jon Silverberg