‘Mur­der in the Woods’: You’ll never guess what happens to the teens in the cabin

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - RICHARD ROEPER rroeper@suntimes.com | @RichardERo­eper

With some movies — e.g., “Burnt Orange Heresy” or “The Big Ugly” or “Yes, God, Yes” — we have to spend a lit­tle time ex­plain­ing the mean­ing of the ti­tle and how it re­lates to the story at hand.

Not so with “Mur­der in the Woods.” The deal here is there’s …

Mur­der. In the Woods.

Yep, this is your ba­sic hor­ror movie about a bunch of id­iots — I mean, teenagers — who ar­rive at a re­mote cabin get­away for a week­end of par­ty­ing, but quickly find them­selves get­ting picked off one by one in splat­ter-movie fash­ion. And though we’ve seen this story dozens of times be­fore, di­rec­tor Luis Iga Garza and screen­writer Ye­lyna De Leon de­liver a darkly funny, self-aware and de­lib­er­ately (I would think) clichérid­dled screamer. It’s not quite a par­ody a la the “Scream” movies, but at no time are we ex­pected to take this non­sense se­ri­ously.

The first in­di­ca­tion “Mur­der in the Woods” is go­ing to have a goofy side comes when we meet the shy nice guy Jesse (Jose Ju­lian), who lives with his Nana (Soledad St. Hilaire) be­cause his par­ents were killed in a mur­der-sui­cide years ago. And how do we know this? Be­cause Nana has a liv­ing room shrine that in­cludes a framed news­pa­per head­line com­mem­o­rat­ing the oc­ca­sion. That’s a lit­tle crazy, Nana!

Against his su­per­sti­tious Nana’s warn­ings, Jesse heads out for the week­end with his friends Gabe (Jor­dan Di­ambrini) and Gabe’s vi­va­cious girl­friend Chelsea (Chelsea Ren­don), who is cel­e­brat­ing her birth­day. With them are the oblig­a­tory wise­crack­ing pot­head char­ac­ter of Jule (Kade Wise), the selfie-ob­sessed and pro­mis­cu­ous Ce­leste (Cather­ine Toribio), and the sweet and lovely Fer­nanda (Jeanette Sa­mano), who is vis­it­ing for the first time in years af­ter her fam­ily moved to Chicago. (One way in which “Mur­der in the Woods” dif­fers from most teen hor­ror films: the mostly Latino, mul­ti­cul­tural cast.)

Even be­fore the group makes it to the cabin, the trip seems cursed, from the car hit­ting a deer to a stop at a seem­ingly de­serted gas sta­tion to the sud­den ap­pear­ance of the in­tim­i­dat­ing Sher­iff Lorenzo (the one and only Danny Trejo), who sounds like he’s is­su­ing a threat even when he’s telling the kids to be care­ful out there. And once they ar­rive at the cabin, well, you know the drill. The kids get wasted and they get into spats and they split up when they should stay to­gether, and ev­ery once in a while, there’s a shock-mo­ment when some­one gets stabbed or shot or crushed by a car by an un­seen killer. In the im­mor­tal words of Men at Work, who can it be now?

Mean­while, we keep see­ing an im­age of a lit­tle boy in a win­dow, mak­ing us won­der if he’s a ghost, or if the house is haunted; some­thing like that. (It’s not all that hard to fig­ure it out.) The young and at­trac­tive cast does a fine job of sell­ing the ridicu­lous plot devel­op­ments; it’s prob­a­bly great fun to make a drive-in hor­ror film com­plete with gal­lons of fake blood and one char­ac­ter af­ter an­other bit­ing the dust in cre­ative fash­ion.

Plus, Danny Trejo!

REZINATE PIC­TURES Kade Wise (from left), Chelsea Ren­don, Jeanette Sa­mano and Jor­dan Di­ambrini play some of the teens par­ty­ing in a re­mote cabin in “Mur­der in the Woods.”

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