While holidaying in the Basque region of Spain, two couples discover a child whose hands are severely misshapen. The child has been gravely mistreated, and, as a result, cannot communicate. The two couples reluctantly decide to rescue her and report her circumstances to the authorities. However, severe weather and the denseness of the forest surrounding their holiday home make it impossible for them to make a quick getaway. Soon, the local inhabitants become aware that the girl is missing, and they rightly suspect the holiday-makers of taking her. Suspicions and paranoia begin to fester, and it isn't long before violence erupts. The villagers demand the little girl's return, and her rescuers refuse to give her up. A deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues, making a return to normalcy impossible for everyone involved.
The premise for The Backwoods is an intriguing one. The idea of how quickly basic human instincts make situations spiral out of control, is nearly always used to good effect in movies. For any writer/director, this concept opens up a myriad of opportunities to shock, as well as to fascinate. This fact probably accounts for why this device is a much-overused set piece. Films of this genre, when well executed, are guaranteed, at the very least, cult-classic status (e.g., Deliverance and Straw Dogs). However, when poorly executed, the resultant films can resemble a confusing, farcical mess. Unfortunately, The Backwoods is an example of the latter.
The Backwoods starts off well, trying to develop the main characters, before violence eventually erupts. However, what we have learned of their character in the initial scenes gives us little insight as to why the characters react as they do to the situation they are dealt. For example, Oldman's character, Paul, is the only one of the four main characters who is thoroughly determined to save the girl. At no time does he falter, even when he could save his life by telling the villagers where the disfigured girl is. This character trait does not hold true, because, up to this point, his character has appeared arrogant and overbearing, with little or no regard for those around him. Having said this, the four leads all give solid, believable performances, and, for the most part, cover up, rather than expose, the inconsistencies in their characters' nature.
Apart from flaws in the development of central characters, this movie has other problems. First, the deformity that the little girl has seems too ludicrous to be believable. If you have ever seen Batman Returns, and you remember the misshapen hands that The Penguin had, you will get the idea. As a viewer, the fact that the little girl has "Penguin hands" makes it hard to take her plight seriously. And finally, the main reason why this movie is farcical rather than stimulating is the movie styles to which it chooses to pay homage. I can understand the stylish, 1970s-vibe it tries to recreate, and I can also appreciate the nods directed toward Peckinpah and Boorman. But, what I can't understand is why the writer and director chose to insert a Sergio Leone-style climactic scene. Up until the final scene, the movie has tried to be dark and thought-provoking. Up until the final moments it has tried to teach the audience something about the human psyche; it has failed miserably, but it has tried. And then, all of the sudden, ten minutes before the end, you have a man-on-man gunfight, reminiscent of a spaghetti western. This ultimate fight appears to be forced and is very much out of place. The only thing that links this final scene to what has preceded it, is the fact that the ultimate scene's outcome is as confusing and pointless as the rest of the movie.
In short, The Backwoods is a jumbled mess, which is full of inconsistencies in character, plot, and style. The only factor that rescues The Backwoods from being a complete disaster are the proficient performances of its lead actors. If you want to watch a film that explores basic human instincts, why not try Magnolia Pictures', The Signal. You will find that film a lot more entertaining and a lot less confusing than this shambolic piece of film-making.