Brightwood Movie Review

Written by Stuart D. Monroe

Released by Cinephobia Releasing

brightwood poster large

Written and directed by Dane Elcar
2022, 84 minutes, Not Rated
Released on August 22nd, 2023

Starring:
Dana Berger as Jen
Max Woertendyke as Dan

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Review:

Horror movies often make killer date movies (pun intended). They allow your significant other to clutch at your arm and snuggle in close, perhaps with a squeal. It’s a classic scenario. Dane Elcar’s two-person nightmare Brightwood is the proverbial horse of an entirely different color, a film that’s the anti-date movie…especially if you and your significant other are in a strained relationship or a relationship that’s (God forbid) on its last legs.

By the way, that’s a massive compliment to Dane Elcar. Allow me to explain.

Jen (Dana Berger; Orange is the New Black) and Dan (Max Woertendyke; Succession) are out for a morning jog. To be more precise, Jen is out for a morning jog and Dan is puffing along behind her trying desperately to get her to talk to him after he got too drunk the night before and attempting to hit on her friend. Their marriage is on the shakiest of grounds, and it’s about to get much worse. Jen decides to change up the route and run the circuit around a nearby pond, still rebuffing Dan’s attempts. Once the trail back disappears, however, and the estranged couple becomes trapped on the path, things go from bad to worse with all the speed of a terminally ill marriage. Then the horror really starts.

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Brightwood plays like a lengthy episode of The Twilight Zone. It’s an existential mindfuck that plays with time looping in a creative fashion, utilizing only two actors and one naturally gorgeous setting to maximum capacity through the use of clever writing full of frank human truth. I don’t know a ton about Dane Elcar (except that he’s the son of veteran actor Dana Elcar of MacGyver fame). Still, I’m going out on a creaky limb and saying this cat must know a thing or two about when a relationship goes sour and toxically dependent. There’s simply no way to write something that hits that close to the mark without a little bit of personal experience and pain.

From a technical standpoint, Brightwood excels with jarring and oppressive music that takes a wide-open setting with a bright blue sky and manages to make it claustrophobic. It’s wonderfully shot and even manages to use selfies and cell footage for a surprising effect (and one cool reveal in the final act). The two leads have biting chemistry and excellent timing. When there is humor, it feels relevant and natural in the course of a failing marriage. In short, it feels natural and unforced. There’s just enough guts and gore to make for a fine finale that’s even (dare I say?) a bit heartwarming in the most twisted of ways.

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Monsters are cool, slashers get the pulse racing, and body horror makes the skin crawl, but horror hits the hardest when it goes to a place where everyone can relate. By a certain age, we’ve all experienced the endless nightmare of a relationship that’s going south with bullet train speed. That feeling of being trapped in a “How the hell do I get out?!” scenario is truly universal. I’ll even take my seemingly backhanded (but not really) compliment to Dane Elcar a step further and say that this film should come with a trigger warning. Seriously.

Brightwood is a film that shows just how much can be accomplished with two actors, a shoestring budget, and a universal truth. Marriage is hard, folks. Be careful with the choices you make. There are so many different versions of you that can emerge on the other side.

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Grades:

Movie: 4.5 Star Rating Cover
Cover

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Stuart D. Monroe
Staff Reviewer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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