Schlitter: Evil in the Woods review – tightly crafted horror turned DIY torture tutorial

Estimated read time 2 min read

From pruning knives, to a table-saw, to pulley-activated mousetraps, DIY buffs will be in heaven watching this rigorously conceived and intelligently shot French horror-thriller (and the more gore-literate will notice a lot of Chekhov’s guns being cocked). Director Pierre Mouchet takes the artisan’s approach to his debut piece, crafting with an utter economy at 73 minutes; one in which every detail and conversation counts. Even the more lurid elements feel grounded and justified, emerging directly from the sinister Vosges forest setting.

Lucas (Louka Melieva) has returned to the countryside to bury his parents, who have been killed in a house fire. But he is the keeper of a dark secret; when he was eight, his lumberjack father fatally struck his friend Mathias in his car and covered up the accident. With his girlfriend Julie (Léna Laprès) and pal Arnaud (Côme Levin), he runs into Mathias’s father (Gilles David) – now a widower who uses a wheelchair. Their car breaks down; they are forced to stay the night and suffer their host breaking out the woodwork chat and introducing the city folk to the local custom of the “schlitter”: the practice of transporting lumber down sheer slopes on a perilous-looking sled.

The cynical Arnaud in particular fails to spot a further Chekhov’s toboggan being loaded. But the general direction of the film isn’t hard to guess, with the lumberjack’s bluff bonhomie – expertly meted out by David – covering unspoken agonies. Mouchet visually hints at this latent emotion with an initial flurry of hyper-aware arboreal shots, then goes on to build an indelible sense of place and surrounding culture, in which you can smell the woodchips and tofaille (local stew). It paradoxically distracts from what is coming and then renders the specifics of those atrocities utterly plausible in terms of this claustrophobic milieu.

Stringing one tightly crafted set-piece after another in the rooms of the house, the director does a lot of damage in one half-hour burst of physical and psychological lacerations – enough to put bloated Hollywood horror franchises to shame. Someone give this man a bigger bit of wood to work with next time.


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