Murder in the Woods (2020)

I love the fact that with the accessibility of filmmaking with modern technology, that more filmmakers are trying to give us different perspectives. With “Murder in the Woods” it’s one in many efforts to give us the classic genre horror fixes with different kinds of characters. This time around the Latinx characters aren’t tokens, but the actual protagonists fighting against the film’s villain.

A group of college friends plan a getaway to celebrate a birthday party at a desolate cabin in the woods. Against his grandmother’s (Soledad St. Hilaire) demands, introvert Jesse (José Julián) decides to go on a trip with his friends. He is immediately smitten with Fernanda (Jeanette Samano), a sweet girl from Chicago whom he hasn’t seen in years. She is in town visiting her loudmouth cousin, Chelsea (Chelsea Rendon), who is ready to celebrate her birthday and plans to let loose with her boyfriend Gabe (Jordan Diambrini). Tagging along at the last second are friends Jule (Kade Wise), and the beautiful Celeste (Catherine Toribio). Soon after arriving to the mysterious cabin in the woods, the group of teens discovers the dark secret it holds, which forces them to fight for their lives.

“Murder in the Woods” doesn’t exactly re-invent the wheel, but director Luis Iga Garza’s horror film sets out to give us less stock slasher characters and more unique Latinx heroes that we can get behind. And he pulls off creating characters of substance and fascinating back stories, while also shying away from cultural stereotypes. It’s a fine line to walk creating an all Latinx cast while pulling back from heavy cultural stereotypes, and Iga Garza pulls it off well. I was very much invested in the narrative and effective cast of characters that writer Yelyna De León built on-screen, and I especially enjoyed the walk on by the iconic Danny Trejo. “Murder in the Woods” succeeds as a very good and often tense slasher film that unabashedly embraces the classic slasher set up.

Director Iga Garza obviously knows how to make a great slasher film, and despite its small budget, “Murder in the Woods” doesn’t hold back with some very good kill scenes and decent grue here and there. Like most slashers, “Murder in the Woods” relies on a lot of exposition to build up to the big explosion. Thankfully it mostly pays off with a pretty great finale that reminded me a lot of “Happy Birthday to Me.” That said, “Murder in the Woods” could stand tighter editing, and I’m still not sure what the final scene indicated, if anything. It felt like a sloppy open ended climax for the sake of a sequel (?), or just a sloppy final edit. Thankfully it doesn’t hinder what is an otherwise very good and atmospheric slasher film. I hope more Latinx filmmakers step up to deliver great horror fare with more representation.

Now available for in-home viewing on various Digital and Video on Demand platforms.