Artsploitation Films has made a name for itself recently by releasing controversial films that other distributors are wary to touch. Their first theatrical releases, Kristina Buozyte’s Vanishing Waves and Maja Milos’s Clip, were a perfect way to introduce the film community to the Artsploitation Films style. Sharing depictions of graphic sexuality, the films otherwise couldn’t be more different. The company has released a number of thought-provoking films from all over the world, recently with a slant toward genre cinema. The latest Artsploitation release is Chile’s Hidden in the Woods, and honestly it’s somewhat puzzling how the film fits in with the rest of Artsploitation’s slate of releases.
Felipe (Daniel Antivilo) lives in a shack in the woods with his two daughters Ana (Siboney Lo) and Anny (Carolina Escobar) and Ana’s deformed son Manuel (José Hernandez), born from Felipe’s sexual abuse of Ana. Felipe’s job is holding drugs for local kingpin Uncle Costello (Serge François), who hopes to recruit the girls as prostitutes when they come of age. One day two police officers arrive at Felipe’s shack to investigate a domestic disturbance call–although who might have called it in is a mystery, as the family appears to have no neighbors–and things end very badly, which is unsurprising given that Felipe is brandishing a chainsaw when the officers first meet him. Felipe panics and begs Uncle Costello for help, while the girls and Manuel finally escape into the woods, hoping to hide at a remote cabin where Felipe and the girls’ mother used to go when the girls were very small.
The fact that this is all just setup should make it clear just how unpleasant Hidden in the Woods is as a viewing experience. Before the main action of the story even begins, the girls have experienced a lifetime of abuse and isolation, with no one to offer them help or even treat them like humans. The family literally treats Manuel like a dog, keeping him locked up in a room to himself, only interacting with anyone when it’s time to feed him. This is a bleak universe indeed, with very little hope that things might somehow get better. Even after escaping from Felipe, the girls are left to figure out how to survive on their own, and in perhaps the film’s bleakest joke, the only sliver of humanity afforded to the girls is from a man who regularly hires Ana as a prostitute while she tries to raise money to get her sister and son as far away as possible from the small village where they have lived their entire harrowing lives.
True to its “grindhouse” roots, Hidden in the Woods occasionally detours into scenes meant to be played for laughs. Uncle Costello berates his thugs, and a running joke ensures the audience understands they are none too bright. But then a few scenes later, the same characters played for laughs are torturing and raping the girls yet again. Another “humorous” sequence features a montage of Ana performing oral sex on a number of much older men. When she actually has a scene where it appears she is making some kind of human connection, director Patricio Vallardes shoots the scene in a manner that ensures the “exploitation” part of the Artsploitation Films name is fully justified. Unfortunately, the “art” is conspicuously absent here. Hidden in the Woods is a mean-spirited, ugly film that represents the worst aspects of “grindhouse revival” filmmaking. Perhaps the only thing more puzzling than Artsploitation picking it up for U.S. distribution is the fact that Michael Biehn is already in production on an English-language remake. It’s hard to imagine changing the language the characters speak is going to make this material any less unpleasant.
Artsploitation Films released Hidden in the Woods on DVD on 17 September 2013. Special features include a “Making of” featurette, interview with the film’s director, a hidden blooper reel, and trailers for other Artsploitation releases.