Oldman and Considine attempt a new Deliverance

Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine, you say? It seems unlikely, obscene even, that a film starring two of Britain’s finest acting talents could have such a low profile. Having never received a full UK theatrical release, The Backwoods finally heads to DVD heralded by… well, no-one really.

It’s a situation that hardly inspires confidence. And yet the film’s scenario should perfectly fit the Brit duo’s famed intensity. Norman (Considine) and Lucy (Virginia Ledoyen) head to Spain in the hope of masking their marital difficulties. Their friend Paul (Oldman) and his partner Isabel (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) play host, their remote woodland home a seemingly perfect retreat. But when Norman and Paul stumble upon a young girl inhumanely locked up in a cabin, they feel they have no choice but to take her to the police. But things go awry under a cloud of cultural differences and linguistic misunderstanding, with a group of thoroughly narked locals violently pursuing the innocent foursome.

The Backwoods is a curious entity, with a multitude of minor problems juxtaposing some flashes of brilliance. Most notably, it’s undeniably derivative. There’s nothing new under the sun, but aping the likes of Straw Dogs and Deliverance is a guaranteed way of irking the same audience that The Backwoods is most likely to appeal to. That said, reflecting a similar visual aesthetic gives the film a stylish sheen, the atmosphere has enough raw nerve to carry the story and the soundtrack accentuates this by swinging between sparse percussion and Leonard Cohen.

Oldman leads the cast with a steady performance. He has an edge over Considine, whose already ill-fitting role is hindered by some clumsy dialogue to create an occasionally impressive but mostly unspectacular role. Their counterpoints also struggle. Ledoyen is suitably frosty (a cynic might say bland) and Sánchez-Gijón is expressionistic, but both fight a losing battle with delivering already erratic dialogue in English. Writer/director Koldo Serra hints at some involving characterisation as Norman is on edge with Lucy (a near loveless marriage) and Paul (whose alpha male status dominates), but, even with some interesting moral ambiguity, these themes are ultimately flaccidly primed.

Not that The Backwoods is a disaster by any means. By casting aside any expectations created by the involvement of the two leads and erasing any memory of the film’s most blatant influences, you’ll find The Backwoods to be a reasonable approximation of psychological thrillers of yesteryear. Expect Oldman and Considine completists to be thrilled and disappointed in similar proportions.

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