Main cast: Julia Wieniawa (Zosia Wolska), Michał Lupa (Julek Rosiejka), Wiktoria Gąsiewska (Aniela Turek), Stanisław Cywka (Bartek Sokołowski), Sebastian Dela (Daniel Czajka), and Gabriela Muskała (Iza)
Director: Bartosz M Kowalski
W lesie dziś nie zaśnie nikt is a Poland’s response to the world, that America doesn’t have the sole monopoly on cannibal hillbillies. Yes, it’s exactly what is said in the title, which translates to Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight, as we have a bunch of people going into the woods and getting terrorized by two mutated cannibals.
Basically, we are at Adrenaline, a camp for kids that are sent there by parents that are fed up with these kids’ addiction to screen time. As it happens, tough camp counselor Iza gathers a few of these teens for a hike through the woods, and that’s when the fun begins. Unlike the usual incestuous cannibal hillbillies typical of films of this sort, the monsters in question are two deformed twin brothers that are made that way due to… I’m not sure, either infestation or contamination by some tar-like substance found in an asteroid piece that the two found when they were kids.
Now, let’s start with the good things. Despite its obvious not-so-abundant budget, the film can be gorgeous to look at. For example, during the obligatory sex scene of the usual teens that would eventually result in carnage and death—because, you know, having sex in these movies equals death—instead of some sleazily-shot scene like I’d expect in other movies of this nature, I get instead some almost arty-farty scene complete with beautiful lighting.
Also, the movie attempts to give the usual passel of teen cast some depths. The fat guy, for example, isn’t solely a comic punchline, as he’s also a trope-savvy fellow whose warnings are unfortunately ignored by everyone else. The blonde that puts out early on reveals that she is actually a lonely girl that tries to find succor in a string of sexual encounters, somewhat hoping that she’d eventually find happiness that way. The jerk of the cast reveals that he is a closeted gay guy that is overcompensating for his own fears and insecurities, while the very obvious final girl has a background full of tragedy and death. The last one is, somewhat ironically considering that she’s the final girl, the most stereotypical of these teens, and a part of me would have preferred the movie to subvert expectations and make the blonde the final girl instead.
Unfortunately, such character development doesn’t quite work. It consists solely of the teen character launching into eye-rolling exposition, dumping a whole lot of angst on another character and the viewer, before getting killed eventually. These characters’ back stories matter little in the long run, as the movie does nothing with these characters beyond killing the most of them off unceremoniously to meet a kill count list. In order words, the movie will not change if these characters had zero background information, and the whole back story thing is just a transparent effort to get the audience to care for these characters before killing them off later. I can practically hear the director, who is also the co-screenwriter, going “Muahaha!” at these moments, and have to resist rolling up my eyes because, honestly, he is being a bit too obvious in his clumsy efforts to manipulate his audience’s emotions.
On to the main reason why people will want to watch this movie in the first place: the gore. Sadly, likely due to budget limitations, it seems like these folks focus mostly on one or two key gore scenes, leaving the rest of the scenes to be of the “cut off before they have to show the audience too much” nature. Even for the latter, the props involved, such as a decapitated head, are on the cheaply made and very obviously fake sort. As a result, it’s hard to feel genuine frightened at any point of this movie. Even the monsters are more adorable in a cute-ugly way than scary, as it’s pretty obvious that they are just two guys with various bits of rubber stuck all over them.
For this kind of movie to really work, one obvious option is to revel in camp and comedy to make up for the lack of scares. The thing is, this movie doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be funny or serious. Mind you, this is a Polish movie, and I rely on subtitles to catch up with the conversations of the characters on the screen, so it is very likely that something got lost in translation.
Also, the movie blurs the line between homage and ripping off scenes from more established movie franchises in a way that can lift some eyebrows. The two monsters look like the butt babies of Victor Crowley and the movie version of Rawhead Rex, there are death scenes that, er, pay homage in a nearly frame by frame manner to those found in Friday the 13th and Halloween movies, and the abundance of clichés only make me think of those Wrong Turn movies. It’s hard to respect a movie that reminds me of very similar but more enjoyable movies I’d seen in the past.
That’s not to say that W lesie dziś nie zaśnie nikt is a terrible movie. It’s beautifully shot for the most part, and it pays homage, snort, to other slasher-hillbilly movies of this sort in a perfectly acceptable manner. It’s just that this movie is far better at making me want to rewatch those movies it closely resembles than being a movie in its own right.