October 15, 2020 Redwood Massacre: Annihilation (Movie Review)
Horror icon Danielle Harris stars in Redwood Massacre: Annihilation, which arrives to DVD and On Demand just in time for Halloween on Tuesday, October 20, 2020 thanks to Uncork’d Entertainment.
Representing the talents of DIY writer, director, cinematographer, editor, sound mixer, and colorist David Ryan Keith (The Redwood Massacre 2014, The Dark Within 2019), Redwood Massacre: Annihilation is a clear labor of love for the one-man powerhouse. Picking up six years after the original—but 10 years according to its plot—our story opens with Max (Damien Puckler: Grimm series, Chase 2019), a man obsessed with the Redwood murders. After the enlistment of author Tom Dempsey (Jon Campling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 2010, Adventure Boyz 2019), a bereaved father who has spent the past decade investigating and searching for answers in the disappearance of over 76 individuals, including his daughter, Max finds himself headed into the wilderness in hopes of discovering proof of the infamous Redwood killer’s existence.
As the group head out in search of clues at an old, abandoned military base in the forest, their motley crew features the fiery skeptic Laura (Harris: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers 1988, Camp Cold Brook 2018), cautious but experienced Jennifer (Tevy Poe: The Time You Die short 2018, What Love Looks Like 2020), as well as the boisterous brawn of Gus (Gary Kasper: Headgame 2018, All Rise series). But their search for truth will see a sinister turn of events when one of their group goes missing and they come face to face with an axe-wielding maniac (Benjamin Selway: Evil in the Hills short 2006, The Redwood Massacre 2014).
At 104 minutes, Redwood Massacre: Annihilation is a slow-burn for its first act, spending its time in developing the interpersonal relationships between its menagerie of characters. However, the film is not without its flaws: its opening sequence is a bit on the hokey side, the characters are fairly basic tropes, and there’s an abundant predictability throughout much of the action. Moviegoers should go into their experience understanding that Redwood Massacre: Annihilation draws from the classics—particularly The Hills Have Eyes and the Friday the 13th franchise—to deliver gore with a dark sense of humor. In fact, there are quite a few one-liners that would make CSI: Miami’s Horatio Caine proud!
So while there are some issues with the screenplay and its execution, nothing ever prevents the film from reaching its potential and there are definitely more positives than negatives. A darkly dramatic mood is set by Drew Denton’s (The Signal 2014, Abducted 2020) well-done score, and Keith’s cinematography is suitably moody to highlight the horrors of the underground labyrinth, as well as the glorious natural landscape. Perhaps most importantly, the brown burlap mask worn by the killer, and designed by Grim Stitch Factory, creates a new Horror villain who, though familiar (think Trick ‘r Treat’s Sam), is wholly his own. (And no, you do not have to have seen The Redwood Massacre to follow along with its sequel.)
This is all capped off with solid acting from the ensemble cast, which also includes Stephanie Lynn Styles (Check Point 2017, The Dark Within 2019). While there is a lower-budget feel to the indie film, its actors maintain a mood that never feels weighed down by ridiculous Velveeta. There are definitely moments, yes, but overall the cast do a wonderful job in portraying their characters with the seriousness that is due in their dire situation.
The one stumble, if you will, is Puckler’s sadistic Max, who often comes across as though the actor is trying a bit too hard to be dangerously suave rather than allowing himself to organically step into his role. But, for the sake of the performance, it somehow works in his favor, creating a Max who believes himself to be a real lady killer when in reality he’s more of a psychotic fanboy. As the object of his interest, Selway does an exceptional job as the burlap-masked murderer. Because we never see the actor’s face on screen and he never speaks, he is careful to exaggerate his body language—moving his shoulders heavily, cocking his head to the side in a hyperbolic manner, and delivering an eerie performance.
Harris, as usual, is no shrinking violet. Her Laura is fierce and refuses to be intimidated by any of the men. A skeptic who doubts the existence of a serial killer hiding out in the woods, Harris’ Laura is a “little badger” who antagonizes Max, makes it abundantly clear to her father Tom that she’s the boss, and has an easy camaraderie with fellow spitfire Jennifer. And, after literally kicking Gus’ butt, the pair come together for some bloody good times.
And yet, each of the characters within the tale is a basic trope: the brains (Laura), experience (Jennifer), boisterous brawn (Gus), outsider (Max), and the peacemaker (Tom). In this, Poe is given the least to work with, her Jennifer meant to be a kind of Daphne-meets-Velma in Scooby Doo terms. Campling’s Tom is the sophisticated Viking who provides the group with calm, while Kasper is given free rein to go wild and he does just this, blazing a trail of fury (and comedy) across the screen.
But for all of its intentional fumbles, Redwood Massacre: Annihilation does a good job of being entertaining. Sure, it details each of its plot points in that overt way so that even the sleepiest of moviegoers can follow along, though, like every good slasher, it’s simply intended to be full of gruesome follies. The Horror lover is apt to love the carotid juice but the casual tourist might not be able to stomach some of the components, which include plenty of beheadings, some phallic gun-stroking, a splash of necrophilia—oh, and cue the Justin Timberlake jokes, because there’s a dick in a jar!
Shamelessly transparent as it takes much of its influence from old school ‘80s Horror, provided you are not easily offended or squeamish, and definitely not someone looking for some deeply-veiled societal commentary, Redwood Massacre: Annihilation may be brazen—and you, much like Gus, may grumble, “Okay, that’s messed up!”—but it’s fully enjoyable, too. And that’s why Cryptic Rock gives the film 4 of 5 stars.