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Brightwood: Film Review

Brightwood is a well-shot sci-fi thriller. Apart from some unnecessary scenes, it is a haunting take on the time loop concept with a gruesome twist ending.

A shaky camera follows a couple in the middle of a morning jog, and an ongoing fight. Dan (Max Woertendyke) follows his wife, Jen (Dana Berger), as she jogs off her anger. While watching Brightwood, viewers (and Dan) learn that Jen is mad about her husband’s drunken stupor the night before. As she makes her way to the trail that wraps around a pond, Dan follows her, begging her to stop and talk about their situation. She only reluctantly stops after realizing she’s lost the trail. The next hour or so is their attempt at escaping a time paradox as mysterious and haunting as the future of their marriage.

The sci-fi horror movie directed by Dane Elcar has it all: a time paradox, gore, mystery, and a gruesome twist ending. Sandwiched between stunning shots of the woods and pond that make up this single-location film is a terrifying concept that only gets darker as the film unfolds. The first half of the film is eerie and mysterious, and the second half answers our questions while giving us something to talk about. Brightwood is simply executed, which serves to its benefit. High quality cinematography, a soundtrack reminiscent of Smile and Annihilation, and a two-person cast leave room for the film’s concept to shine, without much else getting in the way.

Brightwood debuted on Rotten Tomatoes with a 100% rating after showing at multiple film festivals, such as Salem Horror Fest, earlier in 2023. Elcar’s first feature-length film is an adaptation of his 2018 short film, The Pond. This was a surprise to me; one of my few criticisms of the film is that it’s a bit drawn out at times. In my notes for review, I wrote: “this could have been a short film.” Funnily enough, it was. I’d still prefer Brightwood to The Pond, as the feature is better in quality and storytelling, though I would have liked to see it about 10–15 minutes shorter to cut out needless dialogue. Nevertheless, some of the best acting (and most humorous scenes) in the film comes when Dan and Jen have emotional, uncut conversations.

loud and clear reviews Brightwood film 2023 movie
Brightwood (Cinephobia Releasing)

Brightwood secured awards and nominations at festivals, including Best Science Fiction Feature and Best Editing; the latter especially is well deserved. Still more impressive is that writer-director Dane Elcar is also responsible for editing, cinematography, and sound design. That these categories were not lacking, but rather, won the film awards, is a testament to Elcar’s incredible versatility and talent as a filmmaker.

One highlight of this film is the parallels between the couple’s relationship and their attempts to escape from the paradox. While searching for the exit trail, Dan says, “It’s endless. We just keep going the same way expecting something to change.” In the same scene, Dan’s solution is “maybe we just give it time.” This is more prescient, recalling the opening scene when Jen said they’ve been together so long, it’s stupid. In a terrifying twist (spoilers till the end of the paragraph!) , Dan sees Jen murdered by someone who looks eerily like himself. The scenes following that reveal that the time paradox they’re in hosts multiple versions of themselves, at different parts of their run: the “early” Dan and Jen are still confused about the trail, while their “late” counterparts seek means for survival in a paradox they can’t escape.

This concept is perfectly executed, bringing back some of the mysterious elements earlier in the film and explaining them in horrifying ways. Ultimately, the film ends with a bloody twist as viewers learn there truly is no escape from Brightwood.

Overall, Brightwood is a movie worth watching with plenty of gore, twists, and well-executed moments. I would have loved to see this movie get a bigger release, perhaps making its way into theaters for a time, but seeing it on digital does not disappoint. Brightwood is a startling survey of time, and its parallels to the struggles of marriage and loss make it a deep, scary watch.

Get it on Apple TV

Brightwood is now available to watch on digital, on demand and on DVD in the US and various countries. In the UK, the film will be released on digital platforms on March 21, 2024.

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