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September 12, 2013

Hidden in the Woods

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En las afueras de la ciudad
Patricio Valladares - 2012
Artsploitation Films All Region DVD

It's no surprise that Patricio Valladares is remaking his own film in an English language version. If he wasn't making that film, somebody else would. What is so initially striking about Hidden in the Woods is that I got the sense that if the story wasn't filmed in a less travelled part of Chile, it could easily be transposed with little change to some dusty spot in Oklahoma or Kansas. You could even have the small bar where some of the action takes place, a dive called "Tiajuana", and it really would not seem out of place.

Maybe my own sense of judgment will be questioned, but I can't really say wether this is a good or bad film based on conventional critical criteria (how's that for alliteration?). What I can say is that I did keep watching the mayhem because I never was quite sure what would happen next. What I can say is that I didn't feel the sense of moral outrage that this film brought out of some critics. There is a definite query in place regarding a small group of people who act in a predatory fashion, either by choice or as a mean of survival. I can also see Valladares' point of describing the film as a "comedy", although that might not be the most accurate word - certainly the scene revealing the well-scrubbed and comfortable wife and daughters of the baddest of the bad guys makes for a remarkable contrast, and a kind of parody, of the family that are the film's main protagonists, a family that only knows a hard-scrabble existence.

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One might be able to argue that the film is essentially an argument against the concept of male privilege. Even the two hikers who might be the closest to being identifiably like the film's core audience are revealed to be ready to take advantage of a young woman discovered to be in the process of cleaning herself. The local gangster is known as "Uncle", lording over his underlings and anyone perceived to be weaker than him. Felipe, whose livelihood is based on hiding drugs on behalf of this less than kindly uncle, uses his bulk to control is two daughters and son. Felipe's children are caught in a situation where any sense of humanity may need to be sacrificed in favor of an animal-like existence not too philosophically different from their pursuers. As the film progressed, and as I thought about it further, it seems that intentionally or not, Hidden in the Woods does lend itself to a Buddhist reading based on the concept of life conditions. While the idea of "Animality" is usually expressed in the action of the stronger preying on those weaker, it also has a more literal representation here. But also, while not fully articulated, the elder daughter strives to live a more tranquil, human existence.

The burly Felipe survives being knifed and shot to seek revenge against the crime boss. When we have seen how he has treated his wife and children, it is both comic and rancid that Felipe would want to reclaim his family. The film was inspired by a true story, but I'm not sure if that really important. Valladares doesn't shy away from the blood, and at first I thought the film could become the "Chilean Chainsaw Massacre". The ending does provide catharses when the sisters and brother finally find their escape to the beach, wandering into the water, to let the ocean wash away their blood, and hopefully, their past.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 12, 2013 08:18 AM