“Redwood” (FrightFest, 2017): Couple Encounters Vampiric Forest Dwellers in UK Creature Feature

Like many a horror movie character before them, the young couple at the forefront of UK production Redwood does exactly what they are warned not to, going off the main trail during a camping trip in the forest. Naturally, they stumble onto a deadly situation. What makes writer/director Tom Paton’s (Pandorica, 2016) eerie film different than similar “creature in the woods” genre offerings is the reason for the trip, as well as the monstrosities that plague the couple.

Josh (Mike Beckingham of Subconscious [2015]) is a British musician who has recently been diagnosed with leukemia. Choosing to see the world before it is too late to travel, he coaxes his girlfriend Beth (Tatjana Inez Jardone) into a hiking trip through a redwood forest. Before they even get started, they encounter “Steve the Ranger” (Muzz Khan), as he refers to himself, who gives the couple their first warning about sticking to the trails. Soon after that, a stranger (Nicholas Brendon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer television fame) shows up in the couple’s camp, giving off a strange vibe that bothers Josh, and talking about being “a special kind of hunter” in a mocking voice.

Josh and Beth have plenty of arguments, partly because Josh often acts selfish about his disease and making either jokes in poor taste or guilt-tripping comments about it. Beth is heartbroken about his condition and is frustrated that he doesn’t taker her feelings into consideration. After some scary goings-on around their tent at night, the pair go off the trail at Josh’s insistence, so as to shave a great deal of time off their hike and head to the safety of a ranger’s office at the top of a mountain. As readers might guess, this plan doesn’t go well.

As Redwood begins, a somewhat cryptic scene in front of a mysterious (and well designed) altar takes place, as a woman slices the throat of her lover. One of the horrors that takes place after that concerns a group of vampiric creatures that roam the forest, and that has targeted the couple. At first, the creatures act like curious animals, making noise, creeping about, and stealing some personal items. Things definitely get worse from there, though, and writer/director Tom Paton shows a deft hand at steadily increasing suspense and terror. The forest-bound monsters have an intriguing feral look to them, and creature feature fans will be happy to learn that Paton gives them plenty of screen time.

The performances by leads Mike Beckingham and Tatjana Inez Jardone are solid. Beckingham’s Josh keeps his emotions on a rather even keel much of the time, while Jardone’s Beth is given a wider range of emotions with which to play. Even though both actors give impressive turns with plenty of realistic irritations and frustrations between their characters, Redwood suffers a bit in that Josh and Beth’s relationship never feels very romantic. It feels more like best friends or even siblings sniping back and forth at each other than a couple going through the tragedy of one of them having a possibly terminal disease.

That feeling of distance between the two characters may be more by design than lack of chemistry between the actors, however. Redwood hinges on a twist, and I’m interested in rewatching the film to see what might have been telegraphed before that twist occurs. On my initial reflection, it seems that some lines may have been either disguised or passive warnings of what was to occur, which would make sense regarding at least one character’s lack of affectionate demonstration.

Despite some rather abrupt tonal shifts at times — for example, with some early humorous bits giving way to heavy dramatic scenes and some nail-biting attack sequences — Tom Paton keeps Redwood rolling along with confidence and delivers a terrific climax. The film is a satisfying effort in which creature feature fans should delight.

Redwood screened at London’s FrightFest (August 24–28)

4 Stars (4 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry’s formative years were spent watching classic monster movies (starting with "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "Godzilla Vs. the Thing") and TV series (starting with "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits"), Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features" and Roy Shires’ Big Time Wrestling (two northern California legends); reading Silver Age and Bronze Age Gold Key, Dell, Charlton, Marvel, and DC comics; and writing mimeographed newsletters about the original "Planet of the Apes" film and TV series. More recently, he has written for "Filmfax" magazine, is the foreign correspondent reporter for the "Horror News Radio" podcast, and is a regular contributing writer to "Phantom of the Movies’s VideoScope" magazine, occasionally proudly co-writing articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.