Hidden in the Woods (2012) - "En las Afueras de la Ciudad" starts with a horrific scene of domestic violence where the jealous husband is abusing his wife. He is dunking her head in a sink full of water trying to force her to tell him the name of her lover. Whether she actually has a lover or not is answered later in the twist of the film, now instead we see him find his two small daughters in the woods and tell them that their mother has gone to heaven. A horrible person this man and the story clearly wants you to see him fully as the monster he is. It is a horrifying scene of the cruelty man happens to exhibit on a daily basis but most of us are not exposed to. An opening like this could set up a film showing the courage of the human spirit rising above the pain and abuse to find a life worth living. It could be the significant moment in the lives of the two girls as they are dealt a horrible hand in life. The moment that sets their story in motion to see how much the spirit can overcome adversity. There is in this film the misogyny and a basic horrific treatment that could be explored but is just used as a prop for the story.
The story jumps to when the oldest girl is the maybe twelve years old. If setting the table to have us pull for the girls director Patricio Valladares is giving them a lot to overcome. Still living with the drunkard father the girls live a primitive life in the forest. Their father, a drug holder, (he hides the drugs for a big time dealer), a drunk we are subject to him raping his younger daughter and then a horrific scene as he and the older sister deliver the child, a deformed damaged infant that we see they raise but keep locked up in a shed. Treating it like an animal as time goes by with the implication that the younger girl continues to be the victim of rape as the years go on. Another jump in years and the daughters now young women, fight with the father as he again tries to rape her again. Now close to adulthood they are still not strong enough to stop him but they do give him pause. The older sister Ana runs off screaming for help that she will never find. Instead the two girls are locked with the freak in the shed to wait for the punishment that is sure to come later.
At about this time the police show up for a noise complaint and things begin to escalate as the girls yell for help. This is where you would expect there to be a turn in the story, maybe developing how the girls taken from the arrested father will fight through their PTSD to become advocates for the abused? No not in this grim tale. While one officer helps the girls the other is attacked by the father. The second officer shoots him but he gets to her before being taken down. A gruesome chainsawing is what they get for trying to do their jobs. It certainly is an incident that will change the lives of the children forever. Wounded the Father calls his drug dealer boss to help him, he will get money so he can hide out for a while to heal. The drug dealer wants access to the drugs and the man keeps them hidden so that they can not be stolen. This arrangement really gives the man a way to get help instead of being cut loose. Unfortunately for him help is not coming and no one shows to the bus terminal to help him. Meanwhile the children have escaped into the woods and are hiding there. Alone they are afraid to go back and instead are forced to take up residence in the house where their mother was killed. It is now old and falling apart abandoned in the woods. They do not know that the father is being arrested at the bus station. They have no way to know that this decision instead of being the safe thing to do will create an even greater spiral of misery.
This sets up the drug dealers wanting to find the girls thinking that they may know where he hides the drugs. Really though this is a horrific film, the film itself is exploitative but the subject matter is dreadful. The pain and abuse of the main characters is so hard to watch and the film is unrelenting in dishing new traumas on these three innocent characters. The story by the director with help from screenwriter Andrea Cavaletto never looks to make these characters more than the victims they are in the first scenes of the film. In fact like many exploitation films from the past all that happens is more and more shit is piled on them with the bleak realization that there will be no happy ending. So is the point that we are forced to sit through the long spiral down when there is no character development and there is no glimmer of hope? We become the abused by having to sit through the horror inflicted on these characters? Is Valladares making a statement about the viewers willingness to suffer with a character when there is no hope of redemption? Interviews I have read with the director lead this reviewer to believe that is not the case. Valladares seemed more interested in the movie making and less interested in saying anything with his film. So is it art or exploitation? I lean strict exploitation. It is somewhat disappointing to here the director speak about the film. Probably somewhere in the later history if Valladares becomes a name I am sure like Writer/director Meir Zarchi and "I spit on you Grave" writers will reevaluate it giving it more meaning than it will deserve. Those involved will also white wash this exploitative mean spirited film and talk about how it forces the audience to experience what the character does and is somehow therefore a positive message. That bearing witness is somehow a value when really the initiative behind making the film is to make a few bucks. Bearing witness to real life injustice has value giving money a film so the creator can grow his personal career and fortune is another. Bullshit. This film does not even have the revenge featured in that more notorious piece of trash. Instead Ana (Siboney Lo) the oldest sister spirals into a prostitute who blows men to earn enough money to keep her and her siblings fed. The second act is a cruel respite from the violence but not the harsh realities of these characters.
The acting is pretty bad in the film and in those same interviews I learned it was because most of those involved were amateurs. The dialog full of swearing and the over use of "faggot" is hard to listen to over the wailing of victims. When Uncle Costello (Francois Soto) sends his men into the forest to find the three survivors it creates a third act full of continued violence and abuse, more rape more murder. Sure we learn who the girls Mother was sleeping with and why the father chose the second daughter to rape repeatedly but without a story arc of any chance at anything positive these revelations are hollow script tricks. Adding in the strange cannibalism piece only exploits the film industry and viewers looking for the bizarre. In the end even the dream of a happy ending is washed away in blood and the viewer is left hollow. This is really not a recommended film and soon will hopefully be forgotten.