Outstanding performances from a talented cast, a suspenseful screenplay with sharply written dialogue, and a crackerjack directing effort make Patrick Rea’s new feature film Arbor Demon (formerly titled Enclosure) one of the best films currently on the festival circuit. For this reviewer, it is also one of my favorite horror films of the year.
Photographer Dana (Fiona Dourif, from Curse of Chucky) and her husband Charles (Kevin Ryan) embark on a camping trip before he goes on a months-long tour with his band. Dana would rather Charles cancel on the tour, for reasons she doesn’t fully disclose to him. They go deep into the woods, where Dana discovers a seemingly abandoned tent. The couple’s privacy is interrupted by a group of rowdy hunters.
Something in the woods doesn’t take kindly to the presence of the hunters, violently dispatching most of them. Charles brings an injured survivor, Sean (Jake Busey of From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series), into the couple’s tent, and for some reason, the thing in the woods stalks the trio without breaking into their small enclosure. While the tension rises outside the tent with the mysterious thing keeping vigil, the dramatic stakes inside the tent are raised as well, with Sean becoming an ever-increasing negative presence on Dana and Charles.
Arbor Demon is first and foremost a gripping creature feature but Patrick Rea raises it above the norm for the subgenre by playing up the emotional turmoil on different levels. It’s difficult for me to call the story surrounding Sean a subplot because it is every bit as strong as the plot surrounding Dana and Charles. Rea cowrote the screenplay with Michelle Davidson, who appeared in Rea’s feature film Nailbiter (2013) and who has written, cowritten, and acted in several of the director’s short films. The pair have written a screenplay that rings true in its dialogue between the Dana and Charles about their relationship struggles, that creates a menacing human presence in Sean, and that delivers the goods in the hows and whys of the mysterious peril in the forest.
Another unusual departure from the creature feature norm is the fact that a great deal of the creature scenes are set in broad daylight. Such a decision should mean that the creature effects are impressive enough to hold up under the scrutiny of daytime lighting, and I am happy to report that this is exactly the case. Director Patrick Rea follows the tried-and-true method of revealing only flashes of Arbor Demon’s mysterious entity at first and building slowly to a full reveal. The makeup and visual effects departments came through swimmingly, delivering memorable visuals that are well worth the wait (no spoilers here!).
The performances from the film’s leads are gripping. Fiona Dourif gives Dana a great deal of strength during a vulnerable time in the character’s life, and Kevin Ryan plays off of her splendidly as a husband who strongly resists giving up his artistic dreams. By the time Dana and Charles were in peril, I was greatly invested in their characters and genuinely concerned about what would happen to them, thanks to the actors’ performances and the dialogue from Patrick Rea and Michelle Davidson. Without giving too much away about Sean, Jake Busey inhabits the character with an enigmatic sense of intimidation and danger. His performance is one of the film’s many highlights.
Patrick Rea’s taut pacing at the helm is aided by Harry Lipnick’s fabulous cinematography. He captures the beauty of Arbor Demon’s South Carolina setting as well as the action in and around the claustrophobic tent setting with equal prowess.
Arbor Demon is currently on the film festival circuit, with upcoming screenings scheduled at the St. Louis International Film Festival on November 5, the New York City Horror Film Festival on November 10, and Razor Reel Flanders Film Festival in Bruges, Belgium on November 14. Watch for future festival screening dates on Patrick Rea’s Facebook page.
Arbor Demon: (4.5 / 5)