Ana and Anny are two young girls who are forced to live in a remote cabin out in the woods, along with their brother who was born out of incest. The trio are trapped in a living hell as their father spends his days physically, emotionally and sexually abusing them when he isn't taking care of the drug operations for Uncle Costello. However, their father is eventually arrested and while life still isn't easy for Ana, Anny and their brother, things do seem better at the very least. That is until Uncle Costello comes looking for his drugs.
You know how you have a certified hit? When a film premieres during a film festival but at the same time, the Hollywood system already has a remake underway. The shocking Chilean exploitation film seemed to have turned as many heads as it did stomachs to the point that Hollywood couldn't wait to get its grease mits on the remake rights (because we don't read no stinkin' subtitles in 'Murica!). Hell, I'm not even sure which I heard about first: Patricio Valladares's movie or the remake. Regardless, "Hidden in the Woods" has built up a serious reputation and I was looking forward to sitting down and finally being able to watch the movie, thanks to Artsploitation's release.
Taking place in the country side, "Hidden in the Woods" is about Ana and Anny; two girls who are stuck living with their physically, emotionally and sexually abusive father who acts as a watch dog for Uncle Costello's drug operation. Their sadistic father goes so far as to impregnate Ana who gives birth to her deformed son/brother. The three spend their days being terrorized by their father until a run in with the law results in two officers being butchered and their father being locked up. Ana, Anny and their brother should be happy since they are now free but soon Uncle Costello comes looking for his drugs and brings his gang of psychotic thugs with him.
I will start off by saying Patricio's film lives up to its reputation. It is unapologetic and never shies away from the violence or the sleaze, even during the depictions of sexual abuse of the (underaged) daughters. Seems like a bold move for a feature film coming from a country that is not exactly known for filth and exploitation. I'm not an expert on Chilean movies so I'm sure there are others but there only two titles that I can think of, and that's "Dirty Love" and "Visceral: Between the Ropes of Madness". There could be more but, if there are, they aren't well known (the two titles I mentioned certainly aren't) and that might be why this little piece of indie sleaze has garnered such attention. That and also because "Hidden in the Woods" is everything shock film fans what out of movie: sleaze and gore.
With that being said, I was thoroughly disappointed with "Hidden in the Woods". Most likely the fault of my own expectations but what the movie is and what it should have been are two very disappointingly different things. Don't get me wrong, "Hidden in the Woods" is not a bad movie at all. It's a competently made movie that was well executed or, rather, it was executed well enough. The problem that I had with the movie is that it felt like a shallow and empty experience that handled the material in a rather campy manner instead of a visceral one. I could say that the movie is shock for shock's sake but the movie never presented itself as anything else, which I admired. At least it never misrepresented itself and tried to mask its intentions as faux intellectualism and symbolism, like what "Srpski Film" attempted to do. No, "Hidden in the Woods" is a modern day exploitation movie that wants to shock, offend and make you uncomfortable.
There's nothing wrong with that but there wasn't enough emotional material behind the characters to lend any support in making the depravity effective. Certainly watching a 12 year-old girl giving birth to a child after being raped by her father is discomforting but it's a fleeting moment and one that is cheapened when you see that child become something that looks like it stepped off of a clichéd backwoods-cannibal horror movie. That's how the rest of the movie felt when it came to the shocking moments. It was less about harsh exploitation and more about campy horror. Especially when the cannibalism angle came into play. It was a moment that tried to be justified through forced exposition but never clearly made itself known why these characters took up eating people, other than the fact that's what would be shocking.
As I said, it is a competently made movie and there was some thought and reasoning put to certain scenarios or characters. There is a genuine attempt at making a decent movie and not just a senseless parade of brutality. For example, the movie sets up as to why the brother is a cannibal since he is shown being fed raw meat since he was born. So, naturally, it makes sense that he would not have a problem eating human flesh. Unfortunately why the sisters are cannibals is never properly established, like their brother, and there are a few other details that also have flimsy reasoning. Or a complete lack there of. It also feels cheap because people show up simply to be killed or people are killed and it is left at that. (Two cops are hacked up with a chainsaw but nothing becomes of it.)
It's those kind of problems that make the movie feel cheaper than it should have. There are some effective moments where you get to understand the characters and feel for their plight, like when you see the girls at a very young age already understand what is in store for them as they watch Uncle Costello leering. Or when Ana turns to prostitution in order to take care of her brother and sister, where she delves into her own psyche with a John who is becoming infatuated with her. These moments were good and also allowed the movie to feel a little less senseless, but, eventually the movie always degenerated back to its simple graphic nature.
Regardless of how I see the movie, "Hidden in the Woods" is a modern exploitation that gives its audience exactly what it wants: depraved brutality. It's on par with the likes of "Murder Set Pieces" and "Srpski Film" but I disliked those movies as well so that might be part of the problem. For me, "Hidden in the Woods" could have easily been given a title like "Wrong Turn: The Beginning" or "The Hills Have Eyes: Origins" and it would have fit just fine. And while saying that may sound like a knock, it's not entirely meant as one since Patricio Valladares is a good director and there was a genuinely decent movie buried underneath the layers of blood. I just wish the material would have been handled differently and that "Hidden in the Woods" was emotionally effective instead of coming off as backwoods horror schlock.