By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.
Deep in the Wood (2015), from co-writer and director Stefano Lodovichi, is a deftly crafted, psychological labyrinth of a thriller. It takes a notion that parents often jokingly ponder in passing, if their child is really their own, to horrific and mostly unpredictable extremes. For the first hour of the occasionally slow yet, deliberately paced eighty-eight minutes of the runtime, it keeps us ruminating over this exact inquiry. This is in relation to our leads, Manuel Conci (Fillipo Nigro) and Linda Weiss (Camilla Filippi). Such transpires after an ominous, immediately attention-garnering and visceral opening section. This concerns four-year-old Tommi (Alessandro Corabi), the son of Manuel and Linda, going missing at the annual Krampus festival. After this intense and wonderfully mysterious commencement, Lodovichi’s presentation fast-forwards to five years later. Inexplicably, Manuel and Linda’s offspring, complete with matching DNA (but no name or telltale documents), is found. Even though the individual is far more reserved than the Tommi they once knew, which would be understandable given being gone for such an extended length of time, Manuel is quick to embrace their progeny. Regardless, Linda senses something off about the whole situation. There is a wickedness about the youth. It is a trait that becomes harder to ignore, for Linda at least, once he enacts violent deeds. Fearing that this youngster, whoever he may be, is out to kill her, the dynamic between the now divorced duo drastically shifts. From herein, Lodovichi, who penned the brilliantly nuanced screenplay with Isabella Aguilar and Davide Orsini, captivates audiences with this certainly intriguing plot.
What is just as fascinating is the various shifts in perspective extant throughout the piece. This is with Manuel’s viewpoint being the most prevalent. There is also a great amount of admiration to found in the manner Lodovichi fluently has us looking to all three of the central figures in this motion picture as simultaneously the protagonists and the antagonists. Often, and to ingenious results, this alternating factor occurs in the same sequence. This is as we keep asking ourselves are if Manuel and Linda are guilty of kidnapping. Or is it that they are the victims of an evil presence? One that would be along the likes of Damien Thorn: the Antichrist from Richard Donner’s horror masterpiece, The Omen (1976). Alas, one of the strongest attributes of the endeavor is the perplexing journey Lodovichi weaves from this angle. I state this because, sadly, the conclusion is a bit underwhelming. This is given all that came beforehand. It is too familiar and closely aligned to the climactic moments of your stereotypical genre effort.
Still, the minimalistic use of the supernatural elements is admirable. It helps instill more of a reality based sensibility to this already credible undergoing. The performances are all top-notch. They all burn with a quiet passion; an almost never clearly verbalized fervor. Teo Achille Caprio, who hauntingly portrays the nine-year-old version of Tommi, is especially noteworthy in this department. Given the surprisingly small number of arrangements he is included into in the movie, this is increasingly impressive. He parallels his adult counterparts, Nigro and Filippi, in this respect.
Continually, this mesmerizingly atmospheric contribution to Italian cinema is graced with masterfully ambient music from Riccardo Amorese. The same can be said for the magnificent, elegiacally bleak and immersive cinematography from Benjamin Maier. Roberto Di Tanna’s editing as well as the sound work and effects are just as spellbinding. All of this is capped off by Lodovichi’s bold, phenomenal and constantly Hitchockian behind the lens treatment of the material.
Though there are instances when the narrative seems as if it could be tightened, this does little to hinder the proceedings. As a matter of fact, it is all in tune with the richly developed, character-oriented nature of the exertion. The intensity, whether it be in the unfolding circumstances on-screen or in the emotional layering of the piece, is also non-stop. Best of all, Lodovichi never resorts to any of the trappings of paranormal related entries to evoke these sensations. This is with faux scares and bumps in the night galore. Instead, Lodovichi garners all of this from his simple and striking telling of the tale itself. Such makes the minor flaws inherent in the affair, such as those declared above, increasingly superfluous. In turn, Lodovichi has gifted spectators with an audacious, memorable and undeniably worthwhile experience. His latest labor is another superb installment in his ongoing filmography. I highly recommend seeking it out. You can do so when Deep in the Woods becomes available on video on demand on June 13th, 2017 through Uncork’d Entertainment.