First published by Little White Lies
“The following story is based on actual events,” announces the all-too-familiar title at the beginning of Patricio Valladares’ Hidden in the Woods (aka En las afueras de la ciudad) – and on stage at FrightFest, the director confirmed in person that about “70%” of it comes from a true Chilean story. If it really is a true story (and significantly, Valladares failed to provide any detail), it is nonetheless written in the language of pure genre, with its realities deriving entirely from the closed grindhouse of cinema rather than from any world beyond.
Within just the first few minutes there is domestic murder, drug-dealing, child rape, incestuous birth, a flesh-eating mutant and “hillbilly” chainsaw deaths, before the film moves on to cannibalism, a prison shower scene, trigger-happy badass thugs and an iconic ‘cabin in the woods’. And if the plot, in which a trio of siblings are left to feed themselves in the absence of their abusive bearded father, is strongly reminiscent of Jorge Michel Grau’s We Are What We Are, it defiantly lacks even a hint of the Mexican film’s allegorical engagement with sociopolitical realities. All the misogyny and bestiality on display here are in the service of nothing but themselves and exploitation thrills, and are shot in a jarring mode of inconsistently lit handheld and rough-and-ready Seventies stylings. creating a claustrophobic world that entraps viewers as much as characters in a labyrinthine forest of cinematic references.
Every man here is a violent or treacherous pig, every woman a receptacle for cum or bullets – and if the characters and themes are not unpleasant enough, the film is also riddled with a sly humour that maximises our discomfort precisely by concealing itself. When the older (but still teenaged) sister’s entry into roadside prostitution is presented as a mechanical montage of fellatio and follow-up spits, it is difficult to know whether to turn away in horror, or howl with laughter – and the latter option can only come with extreme unease. Indeed, Valladares’ whole strategy is to throw one grittily outrageous depravity after another at us, while challenging us to take any of it at all seriously (and keeping his own smile well-hidden in the woods). The result, though not exactly (or even at all) fun, is certainly disorienting.