“Arbor Demon” (2017): Terror in the Woods Plagues Struggling Couple

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 available on  VOD, after a successful run on the film  festival circuit. For this reviewer, it was also one of my favorite horror films of 2016; it could well be one of your favorites for this 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.

Charles (Kevin Ryan) and Dana (Fiona Dourif) are a married couple trapped in their tent by a deadly presence in the woods in director Patrick Rea’s suspenseful creature feature  Arbor Demon.

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.

Jake Busey gives a menacing performance as a hunter seeking vengeance.

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.

Dana and Charles try to figure out what is threatening them outside their tent.

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.

For more information about Arbor Demon,  check out  Patrick Rea’s Facebook page.  

Arbor Demon: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes 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.