By: Jolie Featherstone
Brayden DeMorest-Purdy’s feature film debut, Beyond the Woods, is a mind-bending, slow-burning crime drama where lost and troubled individuals burn like smoking flames flickering against the bitter-cold, snow-capped landscape that threatens to consume them.
After the death of a local woman, Laura Bennett (Christie Burke), in a rural town and the disappearance of her brother, Jack (Jeff Evans-Todd), Detective Reeves (Broadus Mattison) investigates Laura’s mysterious and aloof husband, Andrew Bennett (Steven Roberts). The film opens with Reeves questioning Bennett, who is bound by handcuffs. The investigation and interrogation lead us on a journey as described by Bennett – though Reeves soon learns that there may be more to Bennett’s story than he’s letting on.
Beyond the Woods is reminiscent of recent crime thrillers set in sparse, snowy, rural communities such as Wind River and Hold the Dark. What sets Beyond the Woods apart is how the film’s focus on psychology is implemented at its very foundation; right down to how the story is told. We’re exposed to various perspectives throughout the film. We soon become aware that the truth is not as clear as it may appear. Similar to human memory, Beyond the Woods shifts, edits, and re-frames time and events. We follow along with urgency and tension – only to find that these events may or may not have happened as we’ve been led to believe.
Even for a slow-burn character study, the film could have benefited from shaving a few minutes off its overall runtime. Slow-burns don’t necessarily feel slow, but Beyond the Woods does at times feel protracted beyond what is necessary. The strength of the film lies in its conceptual exploration of psychology and morality – which is personified through Andrew Bennett. Steven Roberts brings an intense gravity to the role. His screen presence is undeniable. He delivers a strikingly heady and hypnotic performance as Bennett.
In its pulse-pounding climax, Beyond the Woods rebels from Hollywood conventions in how it handles violence and murder. The film walks a fine balance between keeping you invested in finding the truth, while also challenging you to move past your assumptions. The film is much more than a crime procedural. Beyond the Woods is an ambitious feature film that never hesitates to grapple with philosophical and psychological ideas.
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