2020 | Unrated (R equivalent) | starring Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz | directed by Bartosz Kowalski | 1 hr 42 mins | In Polish with English Subtitles |
Is Poland going through it’s own gore-indulging new wave horror renaissance? Earlier this year we had the terrible, but gruesome, The Plagues of Breslau and then the gritty and excellent virus series To the Lake and now we have Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight, a surprisingly good mutant slasher movie that mixes genre influences into it’s own thing. In a year light with movie horror, NSITWT is a refreshingly well-made piece of disgusting, gruesome, trashy throw-back exploitation cinema for gorehounds.
Camp Adrenaline is a detox center of sorts for teenagers addicted to smart phones, gaming and computers in the middle of the woods in a small Polish town. As a small group of campers branch off and hike through the woods they are attacked and killed off one-by-one by a large hulking beast of a man covered in boils and puss in increasingly creative and brutal fashion, leaving the remaining teens fighting to try not being eaten by the cannibal mutants.
Flipping the Friday the 13th teens-and-camp-counselors dynamic on it’s head, Nobody plays like a mix of several far worse movies that begged to be new millennial horror icons – the Wrong Turn movies, the Hatched/Victor Crawley series, The Hills Have Eyes remakes. It’s better than those in every way from the stylish, but no less gory, violence to the creativity of the kills to the script’s concern for creating both well-rounded campers and the hulking mutants themselves. Without stopping to drop exposition in our laps, the movie does a good job of putting the teens together and letting the situation bring out their dimensions – the serial online dater, the blonde who uses her stereotype against people, the gaming channel and movie saavy geek, the in-the-closet jock. Everybody has just enough to make you forget that they are all just lined up for the slaughter and root for their survival. The movie takes extra care with Zosia (Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz), a character whose tragic-technology back story it holds back and doles out in flashback stages so that we slowly shift our focus to inside her headspace. I wasn’t rooting for any of these characters to meet a grim fate so it’s all the more impactful when they do. The music, which turns to sweet when the geek gets a kiss on the cheek or a boy faces losing his virginity, dials right into their longing.
Equally in-depth is the movie’s monster, which is unfolded in a way I did not expect. Nobody is gruesome, but lacks the meanspirited bloodlust of a Wrong Turn or Hatchet. It’s just a slightly harder, more shocking, brand of fun. It also has a sly sense of humor, I laughed more than once at a subtle little detail or one-liner, particularly at late film additions of incompetent adults – a creepy priest and a miserable town cop – who are no help to the “just call the cops” or “just find an adult” crowd. The tonal balance here is just right.
Every time a new monster movie comes down the line it stinks of desperation to be the next series-jump starting horror icon. Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight (a mouthful of a title) is the first of these movies in a while that I would immediately and happily welcome a sequel to. It’s scary fun that moves out of being a guilty pleasure gorefest and into a really solid movie.