Bosque De Sombras

backwoodsBosque De Sombras is stuck in the middle with itself, caught between two urges — to hew to filmic convention and to be almost politely thought-provoking.

The story is simple. Two city couples vacation in the Spanish forest, uncovering a local secret that puts them at odds with the townsfolk nearby. Basically everyone tries to do the right thing, but the right thing is something different to each of them. At the center of this struggle is a young girl, and the particulars of her condition bring about a bloody end.

Somewhere there is a good film here. Koldo Serra, the director, is in Straw Dogs/Deliverance/Dollars mode, but I was bored most of the time. I wanted the main conflict to feel more important. Because we are never given a clear motive behind the girl’s imprisonment (and I’m not sure we need one), we look to the characters and the style of the film to carry the day. The first half builds slowly, but the intensity with which Serra looks at mundane couple strife is annoying. Too much time is given to fleshing these people out when they behave exactly as we expect. They are in blind service to the plot, and the women, surrounded by all kinds of macho pride, do nothing but whine and strip. Once the second half rolls around, tension between the visitors and the locals escalates and…it’s hard to care. A few surprising acts of violence keep us in the picture, and the appearance of webbed hands and a music box leaves us wanting more. With more idiosyncratic touches like these, Bosque De Sombras could have been memorable.

Much of the problem lies in the director’s refusal to sensationalize the obviousness with which he wants us to Think. Because the main villain is somewhat sympathetic and both rich and poor make dumb, sometimes fatal decisions, we’re meant to ponder the moral ambiguity of it all. (Putting Leonard Cohen’s song, “There Is A War,” on the soundtrack is a bit heavy-handed.) Still, just when the film goes for a realistic approach, it nearly throws us out. Take, for example, the wet t-shirt in the pub, the all-too predicted rape scene, or the dialogue about hunter and prey. Without a stylish, theatrical overlay, these bits are phony — bait for those seeking viscera or cheap-deep. I waited for a white vintage Impala blasting mariachi metal to run somebody over, or for Gary Oldman to waste the hicks with a lip-smacking one-liner. In other words, through spare clichés, the film trips on its own seriousness. It doesn’t help, either, that almost none of the characters are likeable.

Had it gone for the jugular — had it not shied away from a stronger stance — the stakes would have been raised, and Bosque De Sombras would have felt less contrived. As it stands, a middling effort equals a middling film.

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