It’s that time of year again. Time to get ready for thrills, chills and scary creatures roaming the night. I’m not talking about Halloween. I’m talking about the 14th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, taking place from October 17th to 25th at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto. Just like in years previous, Geek Hard will be there to take in all the horror, sci-fi and genre delights. We’ll also provide reviews and insight into the films at the fest. The first of which is playing this Thursday: Witches in the Woods.

Directed by Jordan Barker, Witches in the Woods follows Jill (played by Hannah Kasulka), a college student taking a break from studying to go on a ski trip with a group of friends. When the highway is closed due to an accident, they opt for an off-road route through the mountains. After a few wrong turns and a bit of driver error, the group finds themselves stranded in a broke-down SUV. As the temperature falls and the group dynamic falls apart with it, a virtual witch hunt to lay blame turns into a literal one.

It’s safe to say that the plot for Witches in the Woods is pretty standard fare. At one time, this concept was a staple of the business. You take a group of attractive twenty-somethings, put them in a remote area and let loose a slasher or supernatural force on them for sport. Jordan Barker adds a new wrinkle to the formula by placing the film in an SUV. It’s a small change but it helps. Suddenly the story is more claustrophobic. The audience is stuck in the cramped car with the characters. There is no escape from their fear and anxiety.

The characters themselves fit into classic horror archetypes. Jill is the quintessential “final girl”. She’s virtuous to a fault. Her boyfriend Derek (Craig Arnold) is a typical jock with a short temper. Phillip (Corbin Bleu) is the “good guy”. Tod (Kyle Mac) is the comic relief. Alison (Sasha Clements) is the troubled girl who’s been wronged. The nature of the enclosed space turns these roles up to eleven. Their true intentions bubble to the surface almost immediately as there’s no room to breath. For some of the actors, this brings out the best in them. For others, that is not the case.

Sasha Clements is the stand out of the movie. She has the most interesting back story and the strongest motivations. We see her move from troubled girl to possessed powerhouse. She gives a chilling performance that still maintains a level of sincerity. She’s the main antagonist and the victim all at the same time. Most of the performance is done with grunts and looks. She is horrifying in all the right ways. Kyle Mac is also a ray of sunshine. He’s the right mix of weasely and funny. The rest of the cast does their best with their parts but do not rise to Clements and Mac’s level.

Overall, Witches in the Woods is a slow burn that hits the right scary notes. It’s not all that original but it does bring its own charm to a tried and true approach. It will also make you feel cold. The winter landscape is shot to full effect. I got a chill watching it. You can catch Witches in the Woods this Thursday, the opening night of Toronto After Dark 2019, at 9:30PM at the Scotiabank Theatre. The movie screens with short film Eyes Open by Jawed J.S. Get your tickets HERE!

Keep checking back for more coverage of TADFF19.

If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!

Wiches in the Woods plays the opening night of Toronto After Dark 2019.