2021 | Unrated (R equivalent) | starring Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz, Mateusz Wieclawek, Zofia Wichlacz | directed by Bartosz Kowalski | 1 hr 36 mins | In Polish with English Subtitles |
Previously on my Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight review: “Every time a new monster movie comes down the line it stinks of desperation to be the next series-jump starting horror icon. Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight is the first of these movies in a while that I would immediately and happily welcome a sequel to.”
(to the day)
The highpoint of the weak 2020 Halloween horror season, the Polish mutant gorefest, Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight, returns to save a weak 2021 Halloween horror season. The first film was an unoriginal but very effective Dead Teenage Camper movie in the vein of countless other killers-in-the-woods horror films that it happily name checked as it homaged its way through torturing it’s characters. It introduced Julie Wieniawa as our final girl and a potential Polish scream queen. Most importantly, it was gory as hell, scratching that Halloween horror itch studio horror films have become to sanitized to deliver. Director Bartosz Kowalski sets out to deliver an entirely different experience with the sequel, one that is jarring, unpredictable, creative and downright wacky but thankfully still gruesome.
The morning after the events of Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight, Zosia (Wieniawa) sits in a jail cell, having turned herself in for the murders of two backwoods mutants, who survived and now reside in a neighboring cell. The sheriff doesn’t believe her tales of space meteorites, but when he goes missing in a trip to the mutant cabin (in an act that’s only purpose is to kick start the plot), skittish rookie cop Adas (Mateusz Wieclawek) and his assertive-to-abrasive superior Wanessa (Zofia Wichlacz) charge into the area with a group of territory militia men to investigate the disappearances.
What happens next is such a radical curveball that it’s hard to classify Woods 2 as a horror film. Kowalski starts by sketching an outline of the Aliens sequel trope: a group of well-armed, highly trained group of experts turn the tables on our villains. A horror movie turned into a guns-blazing action movie. Then he deconstructs it down to the studs and rebuilds the story into a comedy where the previous films’ homages are brought front and center. Kowalski subverts every trope that pops up, zigging and zagging all over the film, writing into corners, killing off most of the cast and then building something out of the ashes. Where the first film showed some care for it’s characters, this one borders on a full blown unironic romance – be it between two murdering mutants that seem hyper-aware they are in a horror movie scenario.
Your reaction to this is going to depend on how seriously you took the first film. Yes, it was good and it served it’s genre well, but it was nothing revolutionary. Where Woods 2 is taking the story is more inventive. Flipping our viewpoint from empathizing with the teenagers to empathizing with the mutants, delving into why they do what they do, is a tall order that deliberately strips your villains from their mysterious fear. At this point Woods 2 becomes less a horror film and more a spooky Halloween movie. That tragic backstory given to Zosia? This movie doesn’t care about that anymore, instead reframing it’s deaths as horror/comedy punchlines. Most importantly, the subversion works. Our tough female action hero is shown to be wrong and cowardly, our emasculated male doesn’t doesn’t get in touch with his primal side and save the day, the cavalry doesn’t come until the most inopportune time and the growls of our mutants are shown to be their own intelligible language. In a year that gave us more of the same with Halloween Kills, I had no idea where this movie was going from minute to minute. Finding a new entry point in the action is a rare thing in this very tightly-wound genre.
Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight II is a lot of fun, it’s just not in the same way as the first one was. My hope is that this is a one-off idea and that this series doesn’t descend into full-blown self parody. It’s riding that line right now but could tip over with a single blow. My hope is that the film’s final coda is a sequel set up for another genre, science fiction or post-apocalypse most likely, and that each entry in this series slips in and out of different styles and perspectives. That at some point it starts taking itself seriously again. Well, as seriously as it ever has.