★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Dane Elcar
Time Paradoxes are a favorite tool for science fiction horror. Happy Death Day. The Endless. Donnie Darko. Triangle. There is a real appeal to the live, die, and repeat motif, as the body count can often stack up… and it’s the same people over and over again. Brightwood combines that trope with the time-honored Lost in the Woods trope and leans entirely on only two actors: Dana Berger and Max Woertendyke.
Jen and Dan are a couple who have reached the limit of a strained long-term relationship. Dan is a bit of a doofus, whose libido seems to get the better of him, and Jen has absolutely had it with him. After a party in which Dan was hitting on one of Jen’s co-workers at her promotion party, Jen goes off on a jog to run off her rage. Dan struggles to keep up and is continually apologizing for his ways, desperate to keep the relationship together.
Jen decides to take a jog around a pond trail with Dan trailing in her wake. After one loop around the pond, however, the two of them get ringing in their ears, and more mysteriously, the trail seems to have just stopped. This, naturally, does not help to settle the tense mood of the couple, and after fruitlessly attempting to find their way back home, it appears they are in a Mobius strip physical loop with all directions leading back to the pond.
As the couple realizes that they appear to be trapped, they also discover a hooded figure lurking in the near distance, ominously inattentive to their pleas, who takes off when they attempt to approach him. Later on, they discover that they are not the only versions of themselves in the woods, though it shows up initially as collisions on the trail, they discover that in addition to a physical loop, this is also a repetitive time loop.
At a certain point, they start wondering at what point they are in the loop, and how many other versions of themselves are out there. And, it appears that there are better and WORSE, and more violent versions of themselves out there, with each passing minute seemingly adding in more variants.
This is Dane Elcar’s first feature film, and it is based upon a short film he did, starring himself, in The Pond (2018). Like a lot of time paradox films, it gives the characters chances at self-reflection, experimentation, and the ability to see themselves from a distance. Though this is a micro-budget independent picture, it looks terrific and the terrific use of up-tight pan jump scares is terrific. I will say that there is a pervasive verdant green throughout the whole film, and it all takes place in the daytime… it is a time loop, after all. Permanent sunshine.
There are some pretty heady character arcs built into this story, which is fortunate since neither of our characters is particularly appealing at the introduction. Dan is a sad sack loser, and you can’t blame Jen. Jen is aggressive and angry, and clearly ready to break off their relationship. You are not seeing these two people at their best. You are catching them at their low point. We get enough time with them to realize eventually their better angels, but also what would happen to them if they would completely degenerate.
The characters, Dan, in particular, can be quite funny at times. Most of the time you do feel like you are intruding on the collapse of a relationship, and it can be a bit cringe-worthy (in a good way). The variant versions of them range from subtle changes, to wildly different depending on how long they have been at the pond. Kudos to both actors for selling all the little shifts.
The film does feel like an extension of a short film. It’s a bit of a one-trick pony, and Brightwood has a fair bit of repetition, and such is the nature of a looper. It also does not provide a very satisfactory rationale for the existence of this cosmic conundrum. Why them? Why this place? What might be causing it? You don’t need all the answers, but this story felt like it didn’t need to clue you in. Towards the end of the film, you do see something anomalous, but it isn’t explained, it is a discovery, but one that you don’t get to spend much time reflecting upon… because… violence.
This is a science fiction forward film, that back-loads the horror. The horror is DEFINITELY there though. The allegories of the destructive nature of a breakup are on full display here. You will have to be patient and wait for it, but it is a very satisfyingly bloody horror conclusion.
Brightwood is part of the ongoing Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, in San Francisco, and will be showing on December 5, 2022. It is not rated, but would probably earn an R rating for some gore and violence. This would be an OK film for mature teens. You can catch the trailer by clicking on the festival link above.