Brightwood movie poster


In theaters August 22, 2023


, ,

84 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: ,

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

A couple on the verge of a marital breakdown take a run around a local lake to clear heads and ease tensions in Dane Elcar’s Brightwood (2023). Jen (Dana Berger) is mad at her husband Matt (Max Woertendyke), an amiable if sloppy drunk who ruined the previous evening during what should have been a celebration of her promotion with co-workers. Matt is chastened and conciliatory and just wants to spend time with Jen to make it up to her in the most awkward and ham-handed way possible. Making amends is impossible since Jen can’t stand to look at him. There is an unspoken agreement that as soon as they finish that run, they’re going their separate ways. As Matt and Jen put in the laps, however, the pond remains forever on their left, but the trailhead is gone and they are hopelessly lost. In their search for a way out, they encounter dirty figures, discarded earbuds, and maddening whispers. Despite their best efforts, Jen and Matt can’t leave, and what’s worse, it’s a sure bet the figures are stalking them

Brightwood is classifying itself as a sci-thriller, but there’s more drama with a double side of horror. There is an economy of dialogue that absolutely works in a movie with an 84-minute runtime. There doesn’t need to be an extensive backstory with flashbacks and hazy montages to understand a crumbling relationship, and Dana Berger and Max Woertendyke convey brilliantly through expressions and body language what words would ruin. They have the chemistry of a couple together for a “stupid long time,” whose very love language has devolved into spiteful bickering. It isn’t dialogue worthy of an Oscar, but long-term relationships are built on shorthand.

Brightwood doesn’t appear to have a large budget, but it doesn’t need one, using simple practical effects and tight camera angles to get across disorientation, terror, and resignation. The design and execution are simple and direct, making what could be a lazy “missing without merit” movie into a picture that squeezes palpable panic from every pinecone. An expansion of Elcar’s 2018 short Film, The Pond, Brightwood adds one more character and a disintegrating relationship to spark conflict. This is not to say solitary spiraling into madness and despair isn’t a hoot to watch, but it’s more fun with a buddy.

There is a deepening mystery, reminiscent of The Mouth of Madness (1994), Grave Encounters (2011), and the 2016 Black Mirror (Netflix) episode “Playtest.” Jen and Matt are trapped in a reality that is both hellish and comforting. Their differences are irreconcilable, but they are terrified of losing one another. There is blood and gore and the lengths each go through to survive seem insurmountable for an average couple, but that’s rather the point. Their survival will be won or lost based on how hard they’re willing to fight to stay together.

Brightwood is a snappy little film that would make an excellent palate cleanser and battery recharger between something like The Ritual (2017) and The Mist (2007), or maybe Dark City (1998) and Silent Hill (2006).

Brightwood (2022) is unrated, but call it PG-13 for swears, marital strife, lots of running, people getting stabbed in the throat, people getting cracked over the head, desiccated bodies, bleached bones, and mild cannibalism.

Brightwood is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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