Devil in the Woods (as it is called in the UK – known elsewhere as Jersey Devil, The Forest & The Barrens) is a horror movie about the infamous Jersey Devil.
The Jersey Devil is a legendary creature with the most common description being a kangaroo-like creature with the head of a goat. It also has bat-like wings, horns, clawed hands, cloven hooves and a forked tail. It is said to inhabit the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey, USA.
The origins of the legends started in 1735 with the birth of a 13th child cursed to be the devil. Over the centuries more & more stories surfaced even as late as 1960. There is, of course, no actual proof of the Jersey Devil’s existence but it makes a great story.
Devil in the Woods is not…but it could have been.
The movie opens with two backpackers (one played by Shawn Ashmore) coming across mutilated deer in the woods. They are then attacked by something huge & unseen.
We then cut to the Vineyard family about to go on a camping trip into the woods of Southern New Jersey. The father, Richard (Stephen Moyer) wants a stress-free break from all of the trappings of modern life including mobile phones. This is hardly appealing to his wife, Cynthia (Mia Kirshner) or their teenage daughter, Sadie (Allie MacDonald) but their young son, Danny is excited.
Or at least he would be if he knew where their dog had wandered off too. Pay attention, the dog is way more important than you’d actually realise at this stage.
Instantly it’s clear that not everything is going well within the Vineyard family. Richard seems incredibly stressed & it’s having an effect on his marriage. Cynthia isn’t so sure about the trip but on Richards insistence agrees to go.
Once they arrive Richard is disappointed to see that the approved camping area is full of loud & rowdy people playing music & on their phones. The opposite of what he wanted although Sadie instantly makes friends with two teenage boys much to her father’s annoyance.
That night the story of the Jersey Devil is told scaring young Danny. This causes Richard to fly into a rage upsetting everyone at the camp. He appears to be getting more ill & in the early hours of the morning is found by Sadie sleep-walking through the woods.
The next day he grabs the entire family & insists they camp deeper in the woods away from civilisation. Worried about him, Cynthia agrees. Before they leave though they discover that one of the campers has gone missing & that Richard is responsible for Danny’s missing dog.
The dog had returned home rabid & bit Richard before he put it down. He’s been taking medicine to combat it but it seems as though it’s a battle he is now losing. If that wasn’t bad enough as they go deeper into the woods they begin to see unusual things that seem to suggest that someone or something else might be living out here.
Richard begins to suffer hallucinations & believes they are being hunted by the actual Jersey Devil. He will do anything to protect his family but is the actual threat out in the woods or is it closer to home?
Devil in the Woods takes some serious time to get going. By time it does start to get interesting it’s too late to redeem itself. It’s so coy with the plot points that it almost forgets that it’s supposed to be an entertaining horror. Instead you feel like you’re watching a movie about camping & the obnoxious people that sometimes do it.
A story about madness coming from rabies was a solid idea & Stephen Moyer plays the role well. His deterioration is subtle at first but picks up pace quickly in the final third of the movie. Unfortunately, the film throws all its good work away in the final 10 minutes or so by revealing that the Jersey Devil is actually real. This ending is infuriating as it slaps you around the face with its insistence that Stephen was right all along.
At 94 minutes the movie feels overly long & doesn’t satisfy at all. It’s a pity because visually it looks good & the locations are shadowy & oppressive. The Jersey Devil legend is interesting & some people really throw out a good performance.
Devil in the Woods