Matthew Lessner
Sophomoric philosophical drivel about a back-to-nature group of students.

PARK CITY -- "The Woods" are neither dark nor deep, but colorless and shallow in this listless comedy about a group of young people who take to the woods to escape the hopelessness and crudity of the modern world. Playing here in the New Frontier section of Sundance, this film is pretty old stuff, wandering into territory that has been done much better before.

The film's best prospects might reside in freshman dorms on rainy Friday nights when the pizza-delivery trucks are out of commission.

In this meandering romp, a gaggle of disillusioned students drop-out of their cell-head lives and head deep into the woods, supposedly to be re-invigorated or, perhaps, establish some sort of Utopian society. Paradoxically, they lug everything they're supposedly escaping – flat screens, microwaves, Mountain Dew, exercise bikes – and set up camp next to a bubbling stream.

Like an old Roger Corman movie where the second scene in his low-budget titillations was always the locker-room or shower-scene where the teenies removed some clothing, filmmaker Matthew Lessner has learned from the master. There's a skinny-dip, but remarkably tame. Corman was bolder 40 years ago.

The script itself is a hodge-podge of philosophical twaddle and endless monologues by the group's leader Daniel (Toby Davis) whose pronouncements are a crock-pot of half-baked notions and egotistical rants. Oddly enough, filmmaker Lessner doesn't seem to have ever heard of Thoreau but seems to have jammed together a string of banalities that make no coherent or comedic sense: Mix Zeus with Dennis Hopper and throw in some early Jerry Garcia and you've got the narrative heap of this floundering film.

At some points, one suspects it is kind of a modern-day mockumentary of the 1969 hippy-dippy communal movies, but it's simply not smart enough or cinematrically literate enough to know that those types of films were subversively mocked with more style and wit in such films as Alice's Restaurant and Getting Straight. Paging Christopher Guest or Harry Shearer, there's ripe, untouched story matter here.

Other than the bathetic speech-making, there's virtually no drama in this misbegotten hokum. There are several characters of each sex but there is virtually no interaction or dramatic arc to the storyline. There's a hint of romance but nothing develops, indicative of the wet-behind-the ears storytelling.

Actually, one sympathizes with the players for having to utter the twaddle that comprise their lines. Indicative of the low-level writing, one character, however, emerges strongest: A black billy goat wanders around the camp, mainly in search of cheese crackers but also quite capably adapting to his environs. At least the billy evinces the contradictions inherent between life in the woods and life in the urban jungle.

Technical contributions are up to the standards of the production.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, New Frontier
Production: Monte Lomax, Greencard Pictures, and Team G in association with Kickstarter
Cast: Toby David, Justin Phillips, Nicola Persky, Brian Woods, Lauren Hamersmith, Anne-Sophie, Adam Mortemore, Chris Edley, Amanda Furches
Screenwriter-Director: Matthew Lessner
Producers: Matthew Lessner, Jett Steiger, Max Knies
Executive producer: Kickstarter, Mike King
Director of photography: Wyatt Garfield
Production designer: Erin Staub
Music: Lydia Ainsworth
Editor: Matthew Lessner
Costume designer: Jessica Matz
No Rating, 92 minutes

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