As British musician Josh (Mike Beckingham) and his girlfriend Beth (Tatjana Nardone) drive into the Redwood National Park for some time together away from it all, several dark shadows are being cast over their trip. Firstly there is Josh’s recent diagnosis of terminal leukaemia, meaning that, despite all Beth’s desperate efforts to keep talking about their future, how they will redecorate their home, and the names they will give their children, this may well be the last outdoors adventure they ever share. Secondly, there were those signs they passed on their drive in, reinforced by two rangers (Muzz Khan, Nichola Brendon) they meet, all expressly warning them not to venture off trail nor to wander into the Grey Zone on the map. In the horror genre, of course, such rules are there merely to be broken, and such transgressions come with consequences. Thirdly – and the reason we know from the very outset that this is horror – Redwood opens with a prologue in which a woman ritually cuts a man’s throat in front of a demonic statue in a woodland building.
As Josh and Beth journey through the forest, the gravity of their mortal preoccupations is lightened by the peppering of their conversation with pop-cultural references to Dora The Explorer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and (most relevantly) Buffy The Vampire Slayer, while Beth’s banter with one of the rangers takes a self-reflexive turn (“You’re like some sort of character out of a horror film,” she informs him). By nights, however, the couple is increasingly beset by strange woodland creatures circling their camp, and driving them eventually to the forbidden woodland ‘Mausoleum’, deep in the Grey Zone, which some believe is a place of miracles for the sick.
Redwood is beautifully shot, with aerials and wide shots situating its two main characters amid a nature that constantly threatens to swallow them up. Written, directed and edited by Tom Paton (Pandorica, 2016), the film tracks these characters’ urgent struggles to come to terms with impending mortality, and follows them down a path leading towards mythic monsters (in an updated form) that offer a compromised kind of immortality. To watch this couple walk and talk through their issues, with Josh utterly self-absorbed and oblivious to the sacrifices that Beth is being forced to make for him, is also to witness the dynamics, dramatised and personalised, of a ritual that the film’s prologue has foreshadowed and that will inevitably – as happens with rituals – repeat itself.