A Classic Horror Story is an Italian take on, well, the classic lost in the woods horror story. Despite the clichéd plot, this is a surprisingly well-executed and atmospheric film with a twist that turns this into something incredibly enjoyable.
The film is set in Italy and features Matilda Lutz as Elisa, a young woman heading home to visit her parents for a vacation. The vacation isn’t set to be an enjoyable one, as she’s going home to get an abortion at her mother’s insistence as it would ruin her career. Elisa is making her way home by carpooling with a group of strangers going the same way, via a carpool app. Fabrizio (Francesco Russo) is the designated driver and aspiring filmmaker, driving back a motorhome for this mother. In addition to Elisa, his passengers are Sofia (Yuliia Sobol) and her English boyfriend Mark (Will Merrick), a young couple heading home for a wedding, and doctor Riccardo (Peppino Mazzotta).
Despite being strangers, the group get on fairly well with Mark handing out beers from the motorhome’s fridge to lighten the mood. However, an impromptu stop for pregnant Elisa to be sick reveals Riccardo’s troubled home life and also gives the now drunk Mark the chance to forcibly take control of driving the van, despite Fabrizio’s protests.
Later on, it’s dark and Mark and Fabrizio are chatting in the front seats as they drive while the rest of the group sleep. Tiredness is setting in for Mark when suddenly a dead goat appears in the middle of the road, causing Fabrizio to turn the wheel to avoid a collision, running the motorhome a few metres off the road into a tree instead.
Elisa wakes up hours later in the daylight and sees the rest of the group drag an injured Mark out of the driver’s seat. Accusations fly as to who was at fault, however, Elisa looks out of the window and realises the motorhome is no longer a few metres off the road and is instead in the middle of a clearing in a forest, the only thing in sight is a wooden cabin. Fabrizio and Riccardo head into the forest to find the road, only to discover a terrifying altar and as they return and night falls, the group soon realise they could be falling prey to a folklore worshipping cult.
Despite the rather predictable sounding premise, this film plays out much better than I expected and that’s mainly down to the cinematography. With the beautiful Italian landscapes and a simple but effective set design, it looks brilliant. The score is exactly what you’d expect from a horror film but it’s well-executed and fits in incredibly well with the scenes that unfold. There are a few questionable moments of slow motion and some slightly drawn-out scenes, but the overall execution is slick and well accomplished.
And while the plot might seem predictable to begin with, there was enough here to keep me engaged, which was surprising for a mostly foreign language film. The folklore legend the group uncover is incredibly creepy and thanks to the cinematography most of this film makes for an unsettling (yet enjoyable) experience. And the brutal blood and gore only add to the disturbing atmosphere.
The best thing about this film though was the twist. I spent the first hour of this film entertained but worried that it was just another clichéd take on a tired story, however, the twist was a very pleasant surprise and I just didn’t see it coming. Without revealing too much, it reminded me a lot of The Cabin in the Woods, which is one of my favourite horrors and while this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a twist like this, it’s so well executed and surprising that for me it was extremely darkly enjoyable.
It’s always refreshing to watch a film you had little hopes for and be pleasantly surprised, and A Classic Horror Story definitely exceeded all of my expectations and is probably one of the best and most refreshing takes on horror I’ve seen in quite a while.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!