Brightwood Review

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, movies like Brightwood would not exist.

There are a few movies that have ruined the forest for me. Movies like the original Evil Dead, Friday the 13th, and The Blair Witch Project have made it almost impossible for me to enjoy camping. Just driving by a forest preserve I start getting chills and drive a little faster. Yeah, that may sound crazy but how many people are still scared of clowns thanks to Poltergeist?

Brightwood is the next film that I can add to this list to reinforce my fear of forests. What starts off as a normal run turns into an endless loop of disappearing trails and unknown strangers. The loop not only questions the couple’s sense of direction but also where their relationship is heading if they survive. While this premise may sound straightforward, Brightwood gives us an interesting mystery hidden within a love story hidden within a horror movie.

When we first meet our two leads are out on a jog. Jen, played by Dana Berger, is running to relieve some stress from a painful night with Dan, played by Max Woertendyke. It seems that Dan partied a bit too much the night before and attempted to hit on Jen’s co-workers at an office party. Tired and hungover, Dan tags along on the run to try to smooth things out between him and Jen. Jen does not want Dan around but as they run on the trail in the nearby forest things start to take a turn.

During their run, Jen starts letting out the truth about her feelings for Dan. It seems that she has been holding back and now, while in the woods, they are both opening up to each other. Dan tries to fix things but it seems that it is a little too late. Trying to capture one more moment, Dan asks Jen to take a selfie together and after a few photos tries to kiss Jen and she pulls away. They start running again and that’s when they notice their running trail has gone array.

The two notice that no matter how far and fast they run they continuously end up at the same “No swimming” sign. Tensions run high between the two and Dan tries to figure out what is going on. At one moment, a force bumps into Dan when he is running but sees no one around. Here is when the mystery starts as Dan tries to figure out what that was and the two try to figure out how to get out of the forest.

Brightwood slowly builds up the tension between the couple that you are just waiting for them to attack each other. The movie smartly uses the sense of loss in the forest with the troubles the couple is having in their relationship. While they are trying to work together to escape their trap, the couple is also working on their relationship without realizing it. Not to give away too much of the movie but being lost in the forest re-connects Jen and Dan in a way that you will not see coming.

Brightwood is not your typical horror movie but will give you some scares and something to think about after the final scene. You can watch it online or purchase a copy here!

Final Thoughts: Forest preserves are creepy as is and now Brightwood has made them even creepier. This movie is a mind-trip that will make you rethink running in a forest preserve. The two leads do a fantastic job of pulling you into their struggle and it becomes claustrophobic at times. Brightwood plays more like a mystery than a horror movie and surprises you within the final minutes with how scary and messed up it can be.

Kid-Friendly: The movie deals with a crumbling relationship and that subject matter might deter younger kids from watching it. There is a lot of dialogue and minimal action that might not hold the attention of younger kids. I will say this would be geared more towards 15 – 16-year-olds who like a good mystery and enjoy horror movies.

Violence: There is some language at the beginning of the movie the final 10 – 15 minutes are somewhat gory.

The marriage of Jen (Dana Berger, “Orange Is the New Black”, “Elementary”) and Dan (Max Woertendyke, “Succession”) is on the rocks, with Jen seriously considering ending it for good. But when the pair go on a daytime jog in an attempt to hash things out, they soon find themselves running in circles around a pond as the exit trail vanishes and they repeatedly return to the same spot. Being stuck together in an endless loop would be bad enough, but when a silent hooded killer appears and starts tracking them down, the couple must figure out how to survive — together or apart. In his debut feature film, writer-director/cinematographer Dane Elcar presents a smart, twisted, and wickedly funny film about the true horrors of a relationship.

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