She Came From The Woods

She Came From The Woods (2022)

She Came From The Woods first published by

“This isn’t The Burning,” Ashley (Sienna Hubert-Ross) tells her friend and fellow camp counsellor Ben (Dan Leahy) as he hears things and gets the jitters on their nocturnal walk through the woods. Sure enough She Came From The Woods is not Camp Blackfoot from Tony Maylam’s The Burning (1981), nor Camp Crystal Lake from Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980), nor North Seas Cottages from Joe Giannone’s Madman (1982), nor Camp Arawak from Robert Hiltzik’s Sleepaway Camp (1983). Yet while this knowing feature from Erik Bloomquist (Ten Minutes To Midnight, 2020; Night at the Eagle Inn, 2021), co-written with his brother Carson, is set in Camp Briarbrook at the end of the Summer of ’87, and certainly does allude to all these other Eighties camp slashers, as well as to other horrors from the period like Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) and Fritz Kiersch’s Children of the Corn (1984), it is indeed ultimately its own thing.

Camp Briarbrook is a family concern, founded by Gilbert McCalister (William Sadler) shortly before the death of his beloved wife Evelyn in 1945, and still run by Gilbert along with his adult daughter Heather (Cara Buono) and Heather’s sons, the older Shawn (Tyler Elliot Burke) and 21-year-old Peter (Spencer List) – as well as by a regular roster of co-ed counsellors. At the end-of-season staff party, irresponsible, ever-joking Peter organises a ritual to raise the boogeywoman Nurse Agatha, a nebulous local legend whose name is invoked to keep the young campers in their cabins at night. Not long after, the murders will start, and Peter, his more level-headed girlfriend Lauren (Clare Foley), brave Mike (Ehad Berisha) and selfish, sleazy Dylan (Adam Weppler) must follow the traditional Briarbrook principle – “United we stand, divided we fall” – if they are to have any hope of seeing in the dawn.   

There are so many ways in which She Came From The Woods isn’t The Burning. For Briarbrook quickly reveals itself as Camp Curveball, where slasher conventions are repeatedly broken, and surprise is the order of the day. The first of these surprises is that the characters are well-written and well-rounded, coming with idiosyncratic quirks that ensure we never quite know what any of them will say or do next. The second is that they are not ruled by dumb slasher tropes: after killing a friend in self-defence, Mike insists that they all call the police immediately (“the longer we wait to do something, the worse it’s gonna get”) – and later, when Mike suggests splitting up, Heather’s response is no less adamant than it flouts the demands of genre: “Not alone. No one alone.” 

What is unfolding at Camp Briarbrook over this night is tied in with the McAlisters’ history, and with something that, in the film’s impressionistic prologue, we see happening to eight-year-old Heather (Julia Davies) back in 1945, but do not yet fully understand. For this camp, and the community around it, harbour a secret that has long since been buried and wilfully forgotten – indeed forgotten with such success that Peter, removed by four decades from what last went down there, regards actual events as mere myth for the campers’ entertainment, and does not quite comprehend the sleeping beast that he is awakening. That beast embodies an even longer American history, going back to the Puritan days, of the male persecution of women, which we see continued in this film’s late Eighties setting, as characters like Dylan and Danny (played by Bloomquist) inherit and reenact older misogynies. Long after the witch is dead, she keeps coming back to haunt later generations with her vengeful claims, leaving collective guilt and trauma that are never fully resolved.

As we hear the family’s and camp’s backstory told and retold at various points and in ever less evasive, ever more expansive ways, with all its narrative gaps gradually being filled in, we are also witnessing a hybrid film switching wildly from one genre to another, as its own shifting story skips a generation and eventually assumes a monstrous corporeal shape, amenable to de(con)struction. There is, however, more than one monster here, and it may not be the one that you are expecting who ultimately falls victim to a very satisfying burning (and then some). 

Strap: In Erik Bloomquist’s witty generation-skipping, genre-leaping sort-of summer camp slasher, a family must face a bad history and buried legacy

Anton Bitel