In today’s age of quick paced technology, instant gratification, and fast attention spans, films really have to work to capture their audience. “Scream” (1997) took the biggest star they had and killed her off in the first ten minutes of the film, which was unprecedented at the time, and jump started a trend that would reflect on the horror industry for years to come. Sixteen years later, “Dead Woman’s Hollow” uses a similar technique, and draws the audience into the film immediately by using a completely nude woman covered in blood walking down railroad tracks. The viewer has no idea why she’s there, or what happened, but it of course brings up the question “WHY?”. As the title credits roll, the tone is set that this is going to be a film full of horrendous answers to that question.
A horror film that brings a breath of fresh air to the genre, it reveals some secrets up from the get go, and it creates an environment of mystery rather than one of direct horror, waiting to see who gets picked off next. The two leading ladies, Mel Heflin and Sarah Snyder, play two young women who aren’t the nicest of girls taking a trek up into the mountains to hike and do a unique photo shoot. The two have an excellent chemistry of being friends in a Southern mindset. As they are directed down a backwoods path through Dead Woman’s Hollow Road, fatal terror begins to pursue them.
Throughout the film, the cinematography stands out. Cinematographer Matt Stahley truly brings the forest to life with his distant wide shots and smooth motion shots. The stability of the camera completely contradicts what happens in the film, giving the audience the false sense of safety and security as the blood begins to roll. The coloration of the film was reminiscent of “Cabin Fever”, with saturation and limited contrast radiating in the woods. With the basis of the story being based on a set of murders that took place along the Appalachian Trail, the locations cannot be ignored. Halfway through the film, the camera follows the two girls to a cliff overview, with a breathtaking view over the valley below. In a series of beautiful views that the girls travel through, it allows the audience to relate to the characters and become invested in them, while also seeing their impending doom following them. In a stereo-typical horror move, this film makes the audience want to warn the girls and scream at them to stop, which reinforces the horror motif.
Although the film was shot well and has a great cast, a few weaknesses are evident. Sound is extremely important in film, and extremely hard to capture well when the entire film takes place outdoors. While it is evident that the filmmakers tried to ADR and match it, there are a few particular places where it is obvious and a little distracting. The music, mostly synthesized, is quite different from most standard horror soundtrack that are out there today. While this could be considered a strength, in some particularly dramatic sequences it doesn’t just fit right.
Altogether, the film was an intriguing modern day approach to the eeriness and horrible murders that have taken place along the Appalachian Trail. This film definitely encouraged me to never go wandering down that trail or any other by myself!
Definitely worth a watch! In my favorite line from the film, “Why not?”