Many times in the horror genre a film opens with the caption based on true events, and rarely is it true except with such films as Jack Thomas Smith’s Infliction (2013) and now director Libby McDermott’s Dead Woman’s Hollow. Libby’s film contains several underlying tones filtering through it, however presents more as a suspense film with great success for the storyline, than straight-up horror, and it definitely does not fit into the sub-genre of slasher.
Screenwriter John Taylor layers the suspense and brings along this independent film, with great quality, and transforms into a social thriller, that impacts in multiple ways, while still not showing the true story in fill detail. Libby like many other directors in the indie market wears many hats, but also, successfully surrounds herself with a talented and capable crew while completing the project on a micro-budget.
The police find themselves in a baffling who-done-it crime spree, with many women being found in the woods murder – by knife or bullet, all as they try to determine the truth, yet hate of the crime, adjusts the influence affecting mentality, and the right and wrong paths to solve the quest. The storyline deals with a string disappearances and mixed reasoning for each of them happening, but actor Charles Dawson as Sheriff Hatsley brings together a fine performance.
It is here that the reality of the crime and Taylor’s storyline split apart into two different concepts. The reality of the crime involved Rebecca Wright and Claudia Brenner, hiked and camp in the Pennsylvania Michaux State Forest, along the Appalachian Trail near Dead Woman Hollow and had the misfortune of meeting Stephen Roy Carr. The Rebecca rebuffed the advancements of Stephen, who later watched the couple unseen engage in personal matter with each other, thereby making their sexual orientation aware to him. Stephen responded with opening firing on them killing Rebecca and wounding Claudia with five rounds, later his arrest occurred at a Mennonite village and tried but failed to use a psychosexual defense at trail, and sentence to life in prison. Libby’s version omits the overt lesbian issues, and rather focuses the story on abuse of women who meet evil physically, with the center characters Jen (Melissa Helfin) and Donna (Sarah Snyder). Nevertheless, she does bring the true vastness of forest, and mixing with obscure angles giving depth to the isolationism that Jen and Donna have surrounding themselves with unknown fears and dangers lurking with a penetrating score by Kevin Yost. Many times in independent films a score is overlooked and replaced with classical pieces or a metal bands’ musical tastes, rather this talented composer and his score adds volumes to the suspense and achieves powerful impact upon the film. Donna’s conducting an expose of abused women, and has Jen expose herself, with as she photographs the torture and torment that Jen’s body endured, while the forest lays as the backdrop for the images. The reason for location, aside from the connection to the real story, a small town area mentality of two women closeness together or that the forest lends to the aspect that in the woods everything is bare, open to all. The environment, Mother Nature, endures tortures from man’s rampant violence without any care or responsibility, as does an actual woman who suffers from abuse, perhaps the baring the body is a mutual subtle understanding point.
This feature contains quite a bite of female nudity, but Libby treats it with respect and adds the female form into the film intention shows the bruising effect of the secret life of women who struggle silently with the abuse. A male director might taken a different tact and brought a more exploitative film to the forefront, similar to that of I Spit On Your Grave, but that never occurs within this production, the slow grinding of suspense takes steps to bring the audience to trembling spiral of unknown heights.
If you are a horror fan that lives for the film to have blood drench storyline, with the guts dangling from tree branches, then move along, however if an engaging isolationist villain, with quirky characters delivering a worthy emotional feature, then the independent production Libby McDermott’s Dead Woman’s Hollow seeks you out for discovery.