Redwood Massacre: Annihilation (Review) Death has many faces…



I’ll start of by saying a big thank you to Writer/Director, David Ryan Keith (Ghosts Of Darkness) for allowing me early access to his latest Horror/Slasher film “Redwood Massacre: Annihilation”, a sequel to 2014’s “The Redwood Massacre” *see review* a film that I enjoyed quite a bit. I’ve since watched and reviewed a couple of David’s other features – the aforementioned “Ghosts Of Darkness (for which you can find a review of), as well as his debut feature film “Attack Of The Herbals” – both of which were respectable in their own right. Redwood Massacre: Annihilation centers around Max (played by Damien Puckler of TV’s “Grimm”), a stranger with an unhealthy obsession concerning the mysterious Redwood murders. With a couple of rare souvenirs in his possession, Max manages to convince a grieving author (Jon Campling) and his daughter, Laura (played by genre favorite Danielle Harris) to venture to the last known whereabouts of the killer in search for answers. The group is forced into a fight for survival as the hunters become the hunted. The film also stars Gary Kasper, Tevy Poe, Stephanie Lynn Styles, and Benjamin Selway as the “Burlap Killer”.

Whilst I certainly enjoyed the original Redwood Massacre, it was a little rough around the edges and clearly restricted by its budget constraints. If my memory serves me correctly, I don’t think Keith even had a distributor or any finance in place when he made it (although don’t quote me on that). Fast forward to 2020 (a shitstorm of a year) and the highly respected Uncork’d Entertainment are preparing to release this sequel next month I believe. I have the utmost respect for Keith regarding his knowledge and work ethic when it comes to independent filmmaking. He’s served as DP on all of the film’s he’s directed, and that can’t be an easy thing to balance. Annihilation is set in the same beautiful Scottish landscape as the original, but David’s drive to further improve his camera craft is evident from the start. This is extremely high quality cinematography where in which the camera is always on the move. A beautiful mix of dolly shots, stunning wide’s, and plenty of gentle pulling in an out makes for nice varied viewing. The edit itself is every bit as good. It’s tight, and the blue/grey approach to the color grade complements the tone and genre of the film perfectly. The audio track is nice and clear and Drew Denton’s score is a big dramatic one that for the most part is well utilized.

One thing that really stood out in comparison to the original film was the standard of acting. In general, it’s far superior here than in the aforementioned original – something that usually comes with being in a position to hire seasoned actors. Whilst Harris, who’s the most experienced of the bunch, doesn’t have all that much to work with, she puts in an honest and even performance. Across the board everyone is pretty solid, I particularly liked watching Gary Kasper seize the moment. His character of “Gus”, an old friend of Laura and her father’s (and a brute of a man might I add) brings plenty of down to earth humor to the mix – in addition to packing plenty of weaponized heat. When it comes to the on-screen carnage and body count, I’d be surprised if this toll surpasses the original (it’s been a while since I watched that film). That said, it’s a matter of quality over quantity, as is the case with Annihilation. There’s a kill right off the bat to hook the audience in early, and high points include actions like hacking, stabbing, and sawing. The practical blood and gore looks realistic and the pair of decapitations are probably the highlights.

I suppose Annihilation, like a lot of slasher films, could be considered as being fairly thin on story. That and the most interesting of the character arcs is undoubtedly Max’s, whose unfortunately becomes a case of giving up too much too soon. Laura makes for an entirely watchable protagonist but she lacks identity. If the disappearance/or loss of her sister has weighed on her you wouldn’t really know it – the same can be said of father, Tom. Gus is the likeable bloke that you want to know a bit more about. Back on Max though, I wasn’t entirely sold on Keith’s choices with when and where to reveal his central characters motivations. It’s a tough balancing act with maintaining suspense levels and intrigue without being too vague on the direction – though in hindsight I do think Max’s intentions could’ve been revealed much later in proceedings. There’s an unnecessary “assault” (for lack of a better term) toward the end of the first act that feels rather out of left field, and in fact, never has any context even after things come full circle. Most of my other gripes are on the minor end of the scale. Given this is a Scottish production (established on screen of being Scotland), the mixed bag of American accents that sometimes sound European (especially Puckler) can throw you off a little, and I think that Stephanie Lynn Styles performance had a couple of flat spots in it as well. The score is bigger and better but perhaps a touch overstated at times and I was hoping for a slightly higher body count, but in the words of the Rolling Stones – “You can’t always get what you want”.

It’s great to see David Ryan Keith back with yet another feature under his belt. Redwood Massacre: Annihilation is certainly a step up from his low-budget 2014 original. Everything’s got a much more polished and professional sheen to it and the end result is a nice little slasher flick. I was fixated on the cinematography right from the opening establishing shots, the audio sounded crisp, and Denton’s score further enhanced an already impressive production value. The casting choices are good, the characters are entertaining, and the action sequences and practical fx are a lot of fun. I felt like the score ran on at times though, and the accents can appear inconsistent. Due to some early unveiling the film winds up lacking a bit of mystery come the third act, but if you’re not as concerned with story and just want to see superb technical craft followed by bloodshed at the hands of a vicious killer wearing a burlap sack, then Redwood Massacre: Annihilation should be right up your alley. The film’s U.S release date through Uncork’d Entertainment is set for October 20th. In the meantime, you can check out the teaser trailer below!

Redwood Massacre: Annihilation – 7.5/10