“Four friends with a long-standing--but strained— connection take a hiking trip into the Swedish wilderness, from which the may never return.”
Based on the novel by Adam Nevill
We start with five old friends drinking and talking about travel plans. The terror starts when Luke and Robert go into a cheap liquor store with florescent lights and white laminate. While chatting they notice the clerk on the floor and then two junkies come from the back room and one of them has a machete. Luke ducks behind a shelf and Robert gets killed. Then we skip to Sweden, it does a dramatic light change from electric to natural. They have mapped out a trail, and they build a small cairn to Robert. Hutch is clearly the experienced one, Luke is there, but vacant, Don would rather be in a pub, and Phil is happy to be there. The second day into the trip, Don twists his knee and they decide to take a short cut through the woods. It’s four guys having a go at each other like normal, until they come across the deer. It’s hanging by the branches, gutted.
They get caught in the rain and come across a cabin with some Runes on the trees. They discover a shrine of, what appears to be, a man with antlers for hands made of sticks. They all had nightmares that night, Luke relives the liquor store incident and wakes up outside with a strange mark on his chest. Don dreams of his wife, and we are never told what the other two saw, but Phil is found dirty and naked worshiping the idol. When they step outside, the trees are covered in runes. I really like the amount of fear and terror in this scene. You have no idea what happened, but these grown men are crying, screaming, and pissing themselves.
They end up following Don further into the forest. Two of them want answers and two of them try to cope by forgetting it and explaining it away. Don’s injury slows them down, so Luke runs ahead to see what he can see at the top of the hill. (This is one of my favorite scenes) You think you see something, but you truly don’t know until it moves and its color, steadiness, and placement truly fill you with dread. Luke tries to tell the others what he saw but, Don tries to explain it away again. As they argue, Luke says “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.” Don “Track it back.” Accusing Luke of Robert’s death because he didn’t fight. The main theme appears to be regret and doubt.
Hutch suggests that Luke travel ahead and try for help traveling south-west. The hallucinations come again and Luke is snapped out of it by Phil on the ground screeching and Hutch missing. We hear an intense wail from Hutch in the woods and then a dead quiet. They find Hutch impaled by branches, hanging in the trees, gutted. Also, may I say, it was an amazing scream. Truly guttural and chilling. I haven’t heard one that great sense the Wilhelm Scream.
“There is three of us and one of it, and I’ve got a fucking knife.” Luke
We watch them scale a steep hill, with trees blocking the full view, but if you pay attention to the slight opening in the background, you can see what’s watching them. Phil is broken mentally and Don is physically damaged. Luke runs ahead to a clearing, where he can see the end of the forest and fires in the distance. Night approaches as he comes back to Phil looking for the source of a noise, to which he is violently grabbed by the thing in the trees. Luke’s hallucinations start to happen while he is awake. There is so much subtlety going on in the background. You could watch it ten times and find something new.
Luke and Don flee from the creature and duck in the first cabin they see, where they are promptly knocked out. They wake up in the cabin with their hands bound and no shoes. They have also taken Don’s pants… They never explain why… The shoes make sense... Two men enter with a small skeleton of an old woman. She offers water to Luke, and shows a mark similar to the one left of him. She looks at Don, but refuses him water. The men grab Don and drag him out of the room. We hear him scream and horrible moaning, chanting, and growling from another room. A woman comes in tells Luke, “They are preparing the sacrifice, over soon.” They bring Don back, traumatized and beaten. The sounds in this film are exceptional. Every sound is so well edited, timed, and placed.
They bring out Don to be sacrificed and we hear something large come from the forest. The villagers bow and avert their eyes as Don’s wife, Gayle, comes from the forest. Then we are shown the true beast. A giant creature, with the body of a moose, but where the head would be is something like a torso shell with glowing eyes and human arms and hands. He hangs Don from the trees like a butchers Christmas decoration. The woman describes him as an ancient god, one of the Jotunn and a bastard son of Loki. She goes on to say that Luke will worship and kneel or be hung from the trees.
Luke escapes further in the cabin. We hear the mixture of moaning, chanting, and groaning we heard when they took Don. The sound ceases when the door opens. It’s filled with seated, ancient corpses lined pew by pew, with one carcass on a throne in the center. They show start to move so Luke sets them ablaze with a torch and they begin to scream. A proper response, both the fire and the screaming.
The next scene has so many amazing silhouettes and forms. One is of the monster peering through the door. His beady little eyes stare at look as his dirty human hand grip the door. It chases Luke through the woods and we are shown a really cool combination of the forest mixed with the woods. The man made shelves and florescent lights mixed with the foliage and moonlight is astounding. It grabs him and tries to force him down to worship and rears up in a strange pose. The act is both human and animal at the same time. Luke takes the opportunity to axe that bitch in the face. He runs out of the forest, but the beast stays behind the tree line. The beast roars and Luke Howls back. We leave on a dirty, bloodied Luke walking through the fields at sunrise towards the town.
The Story Overall
The first thing I always notice about British movies, is the cool (cold) color grade. I like the shift in electric to natural light once they are out of the city and it makes it that much more jarring with Luke’s hallucinations in the woods, with the mixture of natural and synthetic light. It has a nice sprinkle of comedy and genuine human interaction, from the moment the movie starts to the very end it’s realistic dialogue and reactions you can relate to. I always love a good mixture of practical effects with CGI and the monster felt very unique
The characters are very relatable and the woods give off an amazing feeling of isolation in a big space. Phil losing his mind, Don resenting Luke, and Luke’s guilt reinforces the isolation within the group. Hutch was the only thing keeping them sane and when he was killed they all snapped. The actors also make the most amazing sound of frustration and horror. The monster fed off of their fear and regret and chose Luke because he had the most baggage to deal with. My only complaint is that that forest was near a hiking trail and a quick drive from a town. Not one towns person warned them? It just seems hard to believe that a massive forest with little to know wildlife goes unnoticed. Other that, a great movie, full of suspense, mythology. Good for a wide variety of viewers.