These Woods are Better Left Alone
Score 6/10 - An Enjoyable Watch
Posted by Anthony DeRouen | April 11th, 2022
The Widow, directed by Svyatoslav Podgaevsky, written by Natalya Dubovaya and Ivan Kapitono in 2020 - offers us a glimpse into a deep forest rescue, a job that is long and dangerous under normal circumstances. In the forests north of St. Petersburg Russia, lies a place of foreboding evil. For the past three decades, people have gone missing in these woods, found later dead and most often naked. Who or what is responsible for these disappearances, you might ask? Why are the victims left naked? Locals believe these atrocities are the responsibility of an evil spirit known as the Lame Widow. We are treated to an introduction that sets up the narrative, characters and setting splendidly.
Sadly the story hits a narrative mud patch early on, and we spend most of the first and second acts yelling someone’s name, watching the group’s rescue van lurch down roads or endure a journalist’s cheesy reporting. Admittedly the characters take a backseat to the dense and ominous forest. This is fine in the context of the film, we are told just enough of the characters to know of their purpose. They go about their job with aplomb until wheels get stuck in the mud, literally. There is enough practical rescue behavior and techniques to sell us on their mettle to see the job through. A credit to the filmmakers who spent time understanding how these teams operate.
The one constant in The Widow is the cold, dark backdrop of the woods. For viewers who regularly spend their free time staring endlessly into their phones, or through a computer screen to the detriment of everything else around you, the sprawling woods in Russia might as well be on another planet. They will appear foreign and beyond imagining. For those proud few who venture into the wilderness in search of adventure The Widow will fall flat. This is not to say that The Widow is bare of any extra production value. There are scores of locations that appear to be done for the film, or were a scouting team’s dream come true upon discovering them. The filmmakers achieve that rarity of filming on location where the location fits the narrative like a glove.
There is enough practical rescue behavior and techniques to sell us on their mettle to see the job through.
Narrative wise there are some positives to glean. When the rescue team finds a woman, naked and alone, they follow their training and begin a withdrawal. A watchful eye can spot moments when this feels like something out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (think Edwin Neal’s hitchhiker). The woman speaks in ominous tongues and we’re not immediately sure if she’s friend or foe. In fact, the film plays on our growing suspicion she may have some nefarious purpose. Viewers may also spot Blair Witch tendencies in the third act.
The only true letdown is the ending. The last twenty minutes feels rushed and unplanned. Strange phenomena descend on characters that wasn’t alluded to previously or touched on lightly, and we’re left with a quizzical final two scenes which fail to live up the previous 90 minutes of film. If you didn't know any better you would think this was the alternate ending after test audiences trashed the original, intended one.