“I don’t want to go into the woods”
There’s a monster in the forest—or at least the rumors purport it. Horrific murders occurred on land not too far from a small Southern town’s local college, the stuff of urban legend that unfortunately concluded with the predator’s dead body in a grave hidden on private property nobody ever thought to find. Were those stories based on truth? A cover-up? Or perhaps complete fairy tale? Thanks to Professor Anderson’s (Vanesssa Angel) final project, an assigned group of six students have the opportunity to discern fact from fiction. But as they go deeper into the woods they sense something is watching them. What should be a silly excursion to prove a lie and get an A quickly turns into nightmare. Proof of that carnage lies in their deaths.
I know there’s more to Kenny’s (Parker Croft) story, but I can’t for the life of me remember any details since they don’t really matter. It sadly doesn’t help that the budget on Bev Land‘s Lycan (co-written by Michael Mordler) also makes it so each passage of exposition is told in a single scene with everyone huddled in frame. We don’t continuously glean pieces of the mystery, unearthing facts as these co-eds move deeper into the trees. Kenny lays it all out at once and we either recall what’s said or acknowledge that hypotheses of werewolves and a young girl found without a hand are merely supposed to pique interest with possible truths and/or red herrings. He’s merely sending them down their fateful path towards potential damnation.
In between the dialogue-heavy exchanges of background information through tales of terror are sequences wherein we discover what stereotype each character is. The film doesn’t therefore just take place in the 1980s; it also knowingly wields that era’s genre tropes. So you get Kenny the smart-ass pothead filming everything on his portable camera for personal posterity more than documentarian aspirations. There’s popular girls Blair (Rebekah Graf) and Chrissy (Kalia Prescott) trying to cattily dismiss those they deem beneath them all while looking to get into the pants of those they swoon for. The latter are Blake (Jake Lockett) and Irving (Craig Tate) respectively—the woodsy jock with a protector’s embrace and the Ivy League wannabe leveraging perfect grades into dreams of making his first million by age twenty-five.
That leaves the outlier: Isabella Cruz (Dania Ramirez, who also earns a producing and story credit on the film). She’s the one we meet first surrounded by dark secrets in the very woods we’ll soon learn hold flesh-eating creatures. Her classmates—and teacher for that matter—dismiss her as a pariah, the weird girl no one cares enough about to attempt getting close. Only Blake is shown with a fascination that stems from youth, his lustful desire for her equal to that of Blair’s for him. The rest of the group would rather pretend she didn’t exist and frankly Isabella hasn’t given reason to warrant otherwise. But her adoptive mother’s (Gail O’Grady‘s Ms. Fields) land borders that which allegedly harbors the werewolf’s grave, so her presence proves necessary.
The unfortunate thing about Lycan is that this very rudimentary exposition takes about half the film to unfold. That’s a lot of set-up for little pay-off besides some relationship drama that becomes increasingly problematic once the clouds of love looming above them inexplicably remain despite people disappearing. We’re supposed to believe the fear Irving feels about dying mere seconds before cutting to Blair hitting on Blake or Blake charming Isabella. It’s the type of gross incongruity that used to work in 80s horror with tongue-in-cheek melodrama because everyone would be paired off in separate parts of a house, ignorant to the violence happening elsewhere. That’s not the case here as everyone is together when the first member falls. It takes a strong libido to forget that so quickly.
What’s worse, though, is that it may be intentional. I’m not sure about Land’s goals, but there are tonal shifts galore throughout his film. The biggest offender is an out-of-the-blue rock song interlude that arrives after we finally confirm the killer’s identity. We watch the culprit in an awkward scene of soft-spoken admission that can’t decide on coarse, growling malice or whispery, flirtatious sexuality before the music cue hits and our predator is naked, covered in blood, and writhing around in water. The whole thing plays like some cheesy sex appeal-addled music video you’re unsure about whether or not the point is to laugh. And because there are still more people alive at this point, getting back into a horror mood for the impending drama proves nearly impossible.
The whole is full of these starts and stops so that it never finds a groove for us to comfortably invest in the action. Who we should worry about is also sadly apparent early on without any diversions to lead us astray. If anything the only character-based question raised is whether someone will accept the monster’s proclivities and forgive him/her whatever trespasses have occurred since setting out for answers. The filmmakers do keep us in the dark about whether we’re dealing with actual supernatural beings or just humans that are sick enough to believe they are plot-wise, but even that’s not enough to care about anyone’s fate. We hope for gruesome kills instead, yet budgetary constraints render each one tame. Lycan simply lacks the means to possess bite.