Color, 2012, 97m.
Directed by Patricio Valladares
Starring Siboney Lo, Carolina Escobar, Daniel Antivilo, José Hernandez, Serge François Artsploitation (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD5.1
Berserk, bloody, and almost giddy in its attempts to offend viewers as much as possible, the Chilean horror/crime hybrid Hidden in the Woods was bound to incite controversy from its inception. Receiving funding from the local government under the guise of a social drama based on real events, the film didn't go over so well once officials saw the onslaught of bloodshed, sexual assaults, and profanity emanating from the screen, and subsequent reactions at film festivals were almost as hostile in some quarters. It's easily one of the most extreme offerings yet from daring DVD label Artsploitation, definitely putting the emphasis on "-sploitation" in their name this time around.
In the middle of the woods, sisters Anny (Escobar) and Ana (Lo) have been raised in a shack by their abusive, drug dealer father (Antivilo), who murdered their mother when they were small children. He's also produced a deformed child with Ana, Manuel (Hernandez), whose raw meat diet and lack of any kind of sane upbringing have left him in a feral state. Planning to exploit his daughters even more by selling them off to the sex trade, dear old dad finds his plans waylaid by the arrival of some investigating cops who wind up on the wrong end of his chainsaw and landing him in the slammer. That gives the girls and their offspring a chance to run for it, but their father's boss, drug kingpin Uncle Costello (François), thinks they know the location of a big drug stash. The girls want nothing to do with him, but things get even worse when they run afoul of a couple of pot-smoking backpackers who turn out to be less than helpful, setting the stage for more than one cinematic bloodbath.
Depending on their own personal threshold, a viewer will find this film irredeemably offensive, blackly funny, or exhilaratingly transgressive (or perhaps all three). Some of the humor is undoubtedly intentional (including some goofy segues not unlike the original Last House on the Left), while the more extreme passages feel a bit like the mind of John Waters channeled through the aesthetic of a French extreme horror film like Frontier(s) or Martyrs. It's nowhere near the technical accomplishment of those two films, but the guttersnipe attitude and sheer unpredictability manage to carry the premise surprisingly far, culminating in an unusual, ambiguous twist during the end credits. The reliance on sexual violence (which is implied more than actually shown, given its reputation) has been a sticking point for more than a few viewers, though mercifully the film is most definitely not on the side of the aggressors (some questionable skin shots of the leading ladies aside); if anything it's a pretty negative portrayal of the human race in general, creating a vile community where the only relief can be found by getting some ammunition and wiping out those who deserve it, at least by the logic of this story.
In a much shorter time frame than usual, this film was chosen for the remake treatment by fan Michael Biehn, with director Patricio Valladares returning to direct it in English. How that will play out removed from the Chilean setting is anyone's guess, but in the meantime we have this DVD release from Artsploitation which lives up to their typical high standards. The digitally shot production looks fine given the sometimes rough and occasionally puzzling camera work, which is often blown out or darkly lit on purpose. That said, as far as cheap exploitation wallows go, it's visually superior to dreck like Last House in the Woods. This isn't a visual powerhouse like, say, the same label's Vanishing Waves, nor is it intended to be; this one simply gets the job done and presents the film about as well as possible. Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio mixes are included, and there isn't a gargantuan difference either way; however, with the 5.1 you'll get some surround action with the gunshots and the cool ambient score, so try that one out first. As for extras, you get a making-of featurette (21 mins.) that's basically a random assemblage of footage of the cast and crew at work, with the gore effects providing the best moments (not surprisingly). Prepare to see lots and lots of fake blood. A three-minute-plus interview with the director comes next, produced in conjunction with the film's screening at Fantasia. It's a nice overview of the film as he expounds of the reasons he thinks the film shocks people, how he got the film into the fest, the challenge of getting people to see a "small"movie, and what he thought of Miami Connection. "Clap Clip" is a exactly that, a three-minute reel of clacking clapboards from almost every scene in the movie, and the original trailer is also included along with bonus ones for Vanishing Waves, Horror Stories, Toad Road, and Wither. As usual, Travis Crawford also supplies some terrific liner notes covering the film's extreme public reception, its role within the nouveau grindhouse movement, and the difficult aspects of the film's nudity; a brief e-mail interview between Crawford and Valladares is also included, explaining how the film originated and which director influenced the unusual ending. Bound to be one of the year's most divisive releases, this one proves that there's still plenty of shock value left in cinema, often originating where you least expect it.