Zombies are the middle children of the otherworldly family. Vampires are the oldest brother who gets to have a room in the attic, all tripped out with a disco ball and shag carpet. Werewolves are the youngest, the babies, always getting pinched and told they're cute. With all that attention stolen away from the middle child zombie, no wonder she shuffles off grumbling, "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha."

- Kevin James Breaux

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Web Series Review: LOST IN THE WOODS – Season 1

The proliferation of the independent web series is everywhere and there are both those that are good and those that are not so good, those with good production values and those that don’t even know a production value is, those with good acting and those with their friends and family members as the actors and depending upon the type and style of the series this can be a good or bad thing.  This being said the Matt Nielsen created web series “Into the Woods” lies somewhere in the middle.  At just 10 episodes each about 2 minutes long (making the entire series a little over 20 minutes in length) there is a lot that is in store for the series’ audience but there is also something left to be desired.

The story is about four strangers who wake up one day in the middle of the woods with no recollection of how they got there or how they can get out.  The series opens with Mark Jorden (Richard Peterson) who wakes up alone in the woods thinking that he had partied too much the day before and can’t remember much of what happened.  He’s not too particularly concerned since from his own words he’s a good old boy from North Georgia who just thinks he wondered into the woods.  It isn’t until the third episode that Mark meets Adam Kane (Gary Babiarz) a mysterious backpacker and camper who has food, fire, and can provide Mark with shelter.  It’s not until episode five that we meet the other two parts of our quartet Helena Frae (Angie Harrel) and Baz (Adam Mauldin), a lawyer with basic knowledge of faunae and a video gamer/college student, respectfully.  Both Helena and Baz have been traveling on the same road for three days when they encounter Mark and Kane.  The story doesn’t really jump into gear until Mark begins to suspect Kane of something nefarious (episode 7) at which point for some odd reason he thinks it’s better that he and Baz split from the group to go out on their own despite the fact that Kane has the food, fire, and means of shelter.  Away from Kane and Helena, Mark starts to go little nuts before he and Baz have an altercation at which point the two helpless guys once again run into Kane and Helena and a huge mystery is finally solved just as the series ends opening up for season 2.

Nielsen wrote and directed the entire web series and immediately by the end you’ll pick up on the fact that he was heavily influenced by the film Predators (2010) which is both a good and bad thing.  The bad thing is that the setup is something we’ve seen before in countless horror films and that’s exactly what you would expect from this story except it’s less a horror story and more a sci-fi story only it never fully commits to being a sci-fi story.  There is very little setup for what will ultimately be a sci-fi story, in fact, the first three episodes make it seem like it will be some type of mystery drama but the biggest problem there is that Mark is not a pro-active character and he just meanders through the first five episodes until he decides to run away from Kane instead of confronting him head on.  A mystery only works if there is a character actively trying to solve the mystery.  

There is nothing for Helena or Baz to do in the series other than play follow the leader and since they are absent from many episodes you never really get a sense of what drives them if anything.  None of the characters seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere or do anything to drive the story forward.  Kane is one of the more interesting characters but he isn’t utilized to the best of the story’s capabilities especially since he is at the heart of the big reveal at the end of the first season.  The story does have a group of what could be interesting characters if they had been given something to drive them and to make them want to get out of the woods as soon as possible.

Another thing to take into consideration is the lack of a compelling setup for the sci-fi elements of the story.  After three episodes of straight drama what little sci-fi we get seems to come out of left field (episode 4) until the series’ final reveal (episode 10).  Whether they are incorporated into story or visual there needs to be adequate setup for these sci-fi conventions in order for them to be convincing to the audience and to help drive the narrative.

Now the good.  I loved the hand held aesthetic of the series.  It puts you right into the story of the people lost in the woods.  I would even say that the film makers could have gone even further because the story lends itself to some immediacy.  Also I was impressed with the music and editing which for an indie web series is hard to come by.  The film makers obliviously are trying to present a web series with high production values on a small budget.  With the exception of the episode that takes place all at night everything looked good (that episode had some minor lighting issues but I wasn’t sure if this was because of camera issues or transfer to condensed file size).  There was only minor sound issues with wind noise in the final episode but this did not take away from the series as a whole.  All the cast did a pretty good job although I would have liked to see more quirkiness from the lawyer who has a love of nature fetish and Kane who could have been taken farther with his other worldliness.  I believe this is a tough decision for and writer or director when dealing with material of this sort – how serious or quirky should the tone and mood be?  Babiarz does a great job as Kane and I’m looking forward to seeing where they take this character in season two.

Speaking of season two, season one does a pretty good job of setting of the world of the series, which I believe was the intended goal.  At only 2 minutes per episode and maybe a combined 25 minutes of running time this web series is an extended trailer for a much bigger film.  If the film makers wanted to craft a trailer for a bigger project or feature film (in order to raise money for this bigger project) then they succeeded but on its own it’s just a mediocre first season.  Despite the first 2 episodes being dull and boring the later episodes do pick up steam and you can tell there is life within the web series if it’s given time to develop all of its ideas and at only 2 minutes each episode goes by extremely fast.  My advice to the film makers would be to develop the characters motivations and drive for the series (and make Baz an even bigger video game geek as he has some of the best lines in this season), create a mystery that will drive the characters and plot forward, and don’t be afraid to pull out those sci-fi touches because the last thing you want audiences thinking is that “Lost in the Woods” is just another one of those low budget horror films about a bunch of stupid people doing stupid things in the woods (or a cabin, take your pick).

You can watch all of Matt Nielsen’s  web series “Lost in the Woods” at Blip TV http://blip.tv/lost-in-the-woods#ShowDescription

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