The Woods (2006)

Heather is something of a troublemaking teenager, and with no options left, her parents decide to send her to a remote and exclusive boarding school deep in the woods and away from temptation. She’s not there long, though, before more troubles arise as she clashes with other students, fights with teachers, and discovers some creepy supernatural shenanigans going on after hours.

She tries, somewhat, to fit in at first, but as girls go missing and weird dreams plague her nights, Heather comes to suspect the faculty is somehow behind it. She’s not wrong, and the key is in the milk they’re serving to the girls on a regular basis. Can you guess? That’s right, it’s poisoned! Rather than simply killing the girls, though, the foreign elements they’re ingesting have a far more unsettling purpose. Nightmarish visions of unsavory deeds combine with visceral sequences of ax-play and aggressive tree branches, and the film builds to a fun and bloody denouement.

Lucky McKee’s film teases elements of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and William Friedkin’s The Guardian (1990), but they’re compartmentalized to the witchy faculty and living, breathing trees outside. The movie takes those parts and builds its own tale and world, and what starts as a story about not fitting in grows into something more mysterious and creepy. Agnes Bruckner is wonderfully compelling as the spunky teen, and she’s supported by Patricia Clarkson, Rachel Nichols, and Bruce Campbell (who’s no stranger to violent tree limbs).

The Woods is available on Blu-ray/DVD and streaming from Amazon.

Confessions (2010)

A teacher stands before her class and recounts a sad story of her husband dying from HIV and their child who recently drowned in the high school’s pool. As the teens drink their milk and chatter among themselves, wholly disinterested in what their teacher is saying, she reveals something that grabs their attention with an icy grip.

You know where I’m going with this one right? She announces that her daughter was murdered, that the two killers are in the classroom, and that she’s poisoned their milk with her husband’s tainted blood. Opening scenes don’t get much more twisted than this, but the film’s just getting started. The film shifts between a handful of characters including the teacher and both student killers, and the story grows around them in interesting and devastating directions.

Writer/director Tetsuya Nakashima (Memories of Matsuko, 2006) is no stranger to dark, messed up tales of guilt, anguish, and madness, and while this remains his most challenging, it’s also his most rewarding. The film tackles themes of indifference among the youth of today, but it’s also targeting a general need for attention. The two may seem at odds, but they converge at the interaction of selfishness which is where the teacher’s targeting on her way to a beautifully cruel final scene. It’s a film requiring your full attention, but it’s worth it.

Confessions is not currently available.

Edge of Darkness (2010)

A detective used to investigating the deaths of strangers is forced to shift gears when his daughter is gunned down in front of him. She was an activist targeting her own employer, a company working with weaponized materials under the radar, and the closer he gets to the truth the closer he gets to dying himself.

Threats come both actively and passively here, and while Det. Craven successfully fends off the traditionally physical ones he falls victim to a more insidious attack. Poisoned milk! Did you see that coming? You should have. His daughter’s fridge milk has been irradiated, and Craven is soon on a ticking clock in his attempt to bring those responsible to justice. The grand threat here is one of unchecked power, and it applies elements of films like Silkwood (1983) to a more traditional thriller in its exploration of that very real issue through a father’s grief for his daughter.

Mel Gibson headlines this redo of the popular UK miniseries, and with Martin Campbell in the director’s chair the result is a slick and solid thriller for adults. It’s not very flashy and is instead fairly grim, but it’s a movie that would feel at home in the ’70s as its condemnation of corporate power and (not-so) paranoid fears about government activities are weighty downers. But in a good way? I’m a Gibson fan, and he does strong work here doing what he does best – play characters who are tortured both physically and mentally until the end credits.

Edge of Darkness is available on DVD and streaming from Amazon.

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