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Monday, April 15, 2024

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BRIGHTWOOD movie review – Brightly lit woods won’t save you

Director: Dane Elcar
Starring: Dana Berger, and Max Woertendyke
Movie Length: 1 hour 24 minutes

Dane Elcar’s film Brightwood expands upon a premise he first explored in his 2018 short film The Pond. A couple on the verge of divorce goes for a jog together around a neighborhood lake. They constantly bicker while stuck in an increasingly maddening time loop.

Jen (Dana Berger) and her husband Dan (Max Woertendyke) are out for a morning jog. Jen is angry yet pumped up and ready to go for the run. Dan is struggling with his motivation due to a hangover. The couple was out late celebrating Jen’s recent promotion. It is not just the hangover that is troubling Dan. Jen is upset with him for his behavior at the party. She accuses him of flirting with her subordinates and various other transgressions last night and throughout their relationship. 

Their argument intensifies as they reach the pond. The couple even argues about whether it is a pond or a lake. “A pond is a type of lake” according to Jen. They choose to go in opposite directions along the jogging trail. A piercing noise assaults them and the audience. Once they snap out of it, Jen cannot find the trail. Dan doubles back to find her. 

As much as these two despise each other at this very moment, they decide to work together to get out of this trap. They try to find a phone signal. Nothing is working as it should. They also continue where they left off with their argument.

Up until now the pacing and level of tension are great. The eerie soundtrack is perfect. Berger and Woertendyke as Jen and Dan are great as an awful couple. If this was a shorter film, their anger, resentment, and lingering affection toward each other is enough. However, they continue to tread the same forest path for far longer than is necessary to establish the tension. 

No new insights into their situation or each character are proffered. Jen and Dan continue with their same shallow quibbles while running in circles. It is a funny metaphor the first few times through. After a while, it feels like a blunt instrument. 

The couple suddenly sees someone else on the trail, taking the nature of their trap to a new level of terror. Instead of swift action, the movie starts to show its seams. Even the jump-scares become predictable. As they discover more about others on the trail, the plot stalls completely. There is no satisfying conclusion. 

Brightwood could be a fun low-budget psychological thriller. The plot as presented is too thin for a full-length feature film. It would have been even better as a Black Mirror episode. Elcar wrote, directed, and edited his film and it shows. 

Brightwood is now available on VOD platforms.

Leana’s rating: D


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