The Backwoods: hombres armados

On one hand you have stylish new directors going over the top with their horror movies. The Hills Have Eyes remake and Inside come to mind as a best-case example. But there’s also a new breed of horror movies that gracefully skip like stones across the trope pond. For instance, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane flirting with teen slasher flicks, Joshua’s post-partum twist on the Omen motif, and Ils’ unsettling variation on the standard-issue terrorized couple.

Now The Backwoods does the same thing, deftly reworking the classic gimmick of inbred mutant cannibals in the, yes, backwoods. It eschews the expected tricks and goes somewhere else, gliding impressively past the usual pitfalls and tired clichés. As usual, I’d recommend renting it and then coming back to read this thread. In fact, don’t even read the movie’s synopsis if you can help it. The Backwoods’ first plot point is better off unknown.

Spoilers ahead, starting in the next post.


The poster and the black-and-white freeze frames during the opening suggest 70s spaghetti Westerns (a title card takes pains to point out that this is, in fact, 1978, which is one way to get around that whole pesky cell phone issue that troubles modern horror movies). The character’s motivations play out as if they were in a Western where people with guns have to make choices about where they stand and then uphold them against other people with guns. The women stand by. You might not fully appreciate that this is a Western until the final stand-off in the rain, with two men pointing shotguns at each other in a thunderstorm. It would be almost ridiculous were it not for the reveal about their motivations. The “righteous” man is here out of shame and inadequacy, having just heard that his wife doesn’t love him anymore. The “villain” is here – surprise! – out of a sincere sense of love for the little girl.

Instead of presenting traditional monsters, The Backwoods is about various aspects of the human condition: the Spaniards’ shame at the deformed girl and the incest that created her, Norman’s reluctance to get involved, Lucy’s lost maternal instinct after her miscarriage (big thanks to the film makers for not hitting us over the head with this one!), and even Paul’s acceptance of the natural order.

I love how Gary Oldman plays on our expectation that he’s Gary Fucking Oldman!. He’s going to save the day. As Paul, he’s going to go all Rambo and kill EVERYYYYYONE!!! We look at him through the same eyes as Paddy Considine’s character, Norman, who goes inactive as soon as Paul leaves. But when Paul finally resigns himself to his fate, it’s a reminder that his character ultimately accepts the role of hunter and hunted. Once everyone’s in his place and he sees the karmic chain of events, he’s as placid as the rabbits he shoots.

Paddy Considine is wonderfully bland and hangdog as Norman. The overall arc of the movie is him being able to walk out on his wife. It opens with him fretting about her headache, unable to do much, effete and English as he is. He slips a Leonard Cohen tape into the tape player (the song, There Is a War, will play three times over the course of the movie and the lyrics are no coincidence). More than any of the other character, he is out of place out here in Spain, unwanted, ridiculed, and uncomfortable. The Backwoods ends with Norman leaving Lucy and unnecessarily killing the movie’s most sympathetic character in cold blood. His final shot – pulling the trigger in the rain – is his most important and ineffective. There’s a metaphor for sexual impotence if ever there was one.

And it’s what separates him from Dustin Hoffman’s character in Straw Dogs. This isn’t just a story about the nebbish guy having his revenge. It’s a story about inadequacy driving an insecure man to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, and to then not even know whether he’s doing the right thing, and to do it anyway.

The two actresses are disappointing. There could have been some good material here for the female characters, but the director unfortunately has them working in what’s obviously not their native language. The scenes with the little girl could have been a lot more uncomfortable if the filmmakers hadn’t played it so safe. Putting an adorable young actress in prosthetic gloves is pulling your punches. Imagine how powerful this movie would have been if she weren’t a Spanish version of Newt from Aliens, but was actually inbred, sort of like the little girl in the red hoodie in Aja’s Hills Have Eyes remake.

The setting is also worth mentioning. There’s a really good movie also set in this part of Spain called The Aura, directed by Fabian Bielinsky right before he died. In fact, there are some interesting similarities between The Aura and The Backwoods, involving guns, crime, and bad choices. Fesnadillo’s Intacto also visits some interesting Spanish wilderness. And I’m pretty sure this is where Pan’s Labyrinth was supposed to have taken place. I don’t know, maybe I’m conflating several Spanish forests. But it’s nice to know Europe has its own haunting wilderness areas where strange things can happen.


Well, I’m going to start watching this. I’m not positive it’s the one you’re talking about, but I’m settling down to watch it now. I guess I’ll find out. I don’t want to ruin it by reading the spoilers first.

Edit: I realized no one’s going to get to this in my post below because of SPOILERS, but I second Tom’s recommendation. And really, now that it’s on Hulu, none of you guys have an excuse not to watch it. Just don’t read the description text on Hulu.

Yep, that’s it, and the stupid ass description over the window has spoilers. :(


Wow, Tom. Those are some great insights into the film. While I was able to pick up on a few themes, I wasn’t able to neatly tie them all together as well as you have. I wish I could contribute even half as much to the discussion.

Gary Oldman is great, and you’re right on the money. I was ready to recommend this film just on the basis of Oldman being badass after he drowns Miguel. The format I saw it in did kill some of the tension (especially early on), but by halfway through I was glued to my seat.

I can’t help but disagree. The film does so much with so little, that’d I hate to see them muck it up by making her really disgusting. These aren’t the mutants from the Hills Have Eyes for a reason. The rape scene in this just reminded me how effective and chilling it can be, without the need for MTV cuts and XTREME make up on the actors. Note, I haven’t seen Irreversible mainly because I’m not sure I could stomach it. Heh. I do agree they could have done more with the child than just basically use her as a foil for their miscarriage and mismanaged marriage. But again, how do you work with a character that’s basically mute and freaks out at the slightest thing?

The actresses also did a fine job, but I’m not sure what else they could have done that wouldn’t have just beat the audience over the head (which thankfully it didn’t do). I guess it’s probably also because I’m a guy and not that good with women, so it just much easier to relate to the men (especially Norman). It’d definitely have run the risk of being too long if more material was added.

If this film had been more American, it would have just been way too loud and obnoxious, much like the American people tend to be. Heh.

My biggest quibble with the film is how it handled the care of the little girl. They needed a reason to help the girl, so the squalor serves its purpose. But at the end, it’s obvious the man cares for her. I could chalk it up* to him not really understanding how to care for the child (perhaps she’s learning disabled too), and he never learns because he hides her out of shame. However, it’s obvious many people know. You figure one of them (Miguel at least?) would know you don’t put any child in a situation like that.

Anyway, it’s a minor quibble. So to sum up, I agree the female characters could have been stronger, but am unsure how’d I fix it, but otherwise I second Tom’s recommendation. And really, now that it’s on Hulu, none of you guys have an excuse not to watch it. And you continue to impress with your insight into films. :)

*Is that the right idiom? Chalk it up?

i have this coming

you didn’t steer me wrong with pu239 or whatever, so i look forward to this

this was a pretty good film and i found tom to really nail a lot of the thematic elements in the film while also accurately pointing out its short comings

but, yes. certainly worth watching.

I’m probably going to get this one again, it impressed me quite a bit. Oldman was perfect, it’s a character I’ve never seen him play before, and he does it so well. And I love, LOVE that this movie rolled up exactly like a standard horror film, and then . . . everbody started doing perfectly reasonable and thought-out things. It was so revelatory to not have to roll my eyes during a movie with such a cliche metaplot. And then it stopped being a horror movie and started being a character piece, and was pretty damned good about it.

Also, Oldman’s Spanish was great, he really sold his fluency. Unless he really is fluent.


I have skipped the big, meaty posts and did see this was being offered on Hulu, right now. I really love a good horror movie, but it seems to be that is an increasingly difficult thing to find. This one needs to be watched.

I do not think I have seen anything ‘good’ since the Descent and I was late to the party on that one. The Ruins was OK, but I wanted more to develop.

Tom (and the rest of you) where do you find these and is there a good webstie/resource? Or is it just watching a shitload of movies and sifting through all the mediocre…bad ones?

Tyjenks, movies like Backwoods are the main reason I watch so many terrible horror movies: every now and then – maybe 1 in 50 – I come across something different or even special. Most of them aren’t American. As for Backwoods, I think it actually came up via Netflix’ recommendation system.

I mentioned it on Fidgit, but here’s the next one for you: Rey de la Montana (King of the Hill). Watch it and then click here.


Thanks Tom for doing the legwork. You’re the ginchiest. (That’s right, I am bringing that back)

couldn’t fnd that one on netflix, unfortunately

King of the Hill is here on Netflix.



curious how i missed it as i searched under the english title and the spanish one.

wasn’t really expecting the game aspects of that film and found them to be really well shot and implemented

So I finally saw this on Hulu, finished just a few minutes ago. I picked it out of their “Huluween” promotion based on a dimly remembered Tom Chick post saying I should watch the movie before finding out anything about it. I would’ve seen it sooner but didn’t know it was on Hulu because I stopped reading this thread after the first post. :P

Now that I’ve watched and dug up this thread, I’m disappointed to see so few posts. I was annoyed by the usual stereotype of rural villagers as retarded and evil but this movie is different enough from typical horror schlock to make it worth viewing.

One opinion I have to disagree with:

While I agree that people don’t do as many blatantly stupid things as in typical schlock, there’s plenty to keep my eyes rolling. I don’t want to go into too much detail because I don’t want to spoil things… the most annoying part was how passive a number of the main characters were. All of them were overly passive some of the time and some were overly passive nearly all of the time. I chalked it up to being a British thing.

Oh, and a bit of clarification: in the final scene, did that dude really shoot at what I thought he was shooting at?


Just kidding. They were reasonable in the context of “this is a horror movie” not necessarily real-world reasonable. Also, remember that until you absolutely positively know someone is to blame for something, you’re going to be circumspect about trying to prove it. In the real world people don’t go all John McClane on conjecture.