Into the Woods


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Creating no-budget films can be a frustrating experience. You have to live with the reality that the final product is not going to look the way you have imagined it in your dreams. Ennio Morricone and John Williams are not going to beat down your door and beg to write your score. Cate Blanchett and Leo DiCaprio aren't going to donate their time to help you fulfill your dream. Industrial Light and Magic is not going to be creating your effects. Christopher Rouse is not going to appear on your doorstep looking for editing work. Caleb Deschanel is not going to volunteer to be your cinematographer, and even if he did, you couldn't afford his crew of lighting and other technical experts.

That does not necessarily stop you from making an entertaining and watchable film. The key is to create a script that can minimize your liabilities:

Since you are working with actors of limited range and your sound will be imperfect at best, you need to tell the story with a minimum of words, and cover up bad ambient sound with a score whenever possible.

You absolutely must not create any elements that would require special effects, costumes or make-up because nothing looks worse than grade-z ghosts, splatter, and monsters.

Forget period pieces and locate your story today, because it costs a lot of money to get period details right.

If you locate every scene outdoors in natural light in the real world, your images will look as good as anyone else's.

Make your story short and to the point. Long movies get that way because authors want to develop dimensional characters or deliver clever dialogue. You can't spend a lot of time on character development because your amateur actors won't be able to handle the nuances, and they'll ruin your genius dialogue with bad delivery. Plot, on the other hand, is almost actor-proof. Create a good one and have it drive quickly to the point.

Finally, there are certain things that contribute to the marketability of your product and are free. One of the most useful is nudity. It is axiomatic that a genre film with a naked women in the woods will sell more DVDs than one with a clothed woman, and the nudity also saves on the costume budget.

Phil Herman, the auteur of Into The Woods, followed most of the rules above and delivered a pretty good little movie that kept me away from the remote.

Post-credits, Nancy Feliciano finds herself in a deserted building somewhere on a remote beach. She is stark naked and has no memory of why she is there or how she got there. She assembles a piecemeal outfit and goes walking through the wilderness. At various times she finds care packages, messages, ringing cell phones, and other items planted by an unseen tormenter, the cat to her mouse. She walks for what seems like days and then realizes that she seems to be covering the very same routes she has already covered. She seems to be trapped on some kind of a cosmic treadmill. As the film tells her story, it gradually cuts away from the main storyline to more and more flashbacks, based upon the premise that they represent her memory's gradual return.

If I reveal much more, I'll be spoiling the film's value, which lies in the explanations: the identity of her tormentor, her location, and the reason she is in this predicament.

If you look at the promotional stills for this film, which center around a naked Nancy Feliciano, you may derive the idea that it's some kind of bondage film, or even torture porn. It is not. It it essentially a psychological drama. There is a good reason why she is naked, once you understand the storyteller's POV. There is also a good reason why some details seem surreal or illogical. If you remember that it is a plot-driven mystery film, sort of a Twilight Zone with tits, the illogical will eventually seem appropriate.

My comparison to the Twilight Zone was not made casually. One of Rod Serling's favorite plot devices was the terror of isolation - the loneliness of being the only one on earth, or the only one who can see a certain thing, or the only one of your species or your time, for example. Nancy Feliciano basically finds herself in such a Serlingesque situation. She wanders through the woods forever, sees no other living person, and seems to cover the same ground again and again. Later she is in a car driving through city streets, and experiences a similar phenomenon: she sees the same completely deserted streets again and again.

I think the ultimate explanation may even surprise you.

Is it a great movie? No, and it can be very awkward at times. But sometimes the distance between a great film like Memento and a modest effort like this can be smaller than you expect. In fact, if Hollywood bought this script and re-made it with professionals, featuring (let's say) Jessica Biel naked for most of the film, it could be damned good! I would pay to see it.


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  • Interviews with producer/director Phil Herman (1, 2)





  • Nancy Feliciano is stark naked throughout much of the movie. See the nudity here.
  • Writer/director Phil Herman triples as the lead actor, and bares his bum!



Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Despite rough edges generated by a zero budget, it is a watchable psychological drama.