There is nothing more terrifying to a parent than having a child go missing. The haunting fear of unanswered questions preventing closure wreaks havoc on the parents’ lives, doing irreparable damage. Deep in the Wood, a 2015 Italian feature directed by Stefano Lodovichi, realistically reflects this parental nightmare with a compelling story, a carefully crafted plot, gritty cinematography and outstanding performances.
After Manuel’s 4-year-old son, Tommi (Alessandro Corabi), vanishes during an annual Krampus festival, his life is thrown into disarray. Though no proof is found, the village believes Manuel (Filippo Nigro) is somehow responsible for the missing child. Through the tragedy, Manuel’s wife, Linda (Camilla Filippi), struggles to hold together her deteriorating psyche.
Five years following the incident, a mysterious boy is found without identification. When a DNA test confirms the this is Tommi (Teo Achille Caprio), Manuel embraces his son’s return. However, Linda is unable to do the same. Plagued with skepticism, the grieving mother isn’t so sure this young boy is really her son. As secrets are revealed, she is not the only one who is concerned that who has returned may not be the same child who disappeared 5 years ago.
Opening with the night of Tommi’s disappearance, Deep in the Wood immediately steals your attention with jump cuts of the Alpine Valley Krampus Festival. With barrel fires and torches lighting the streets, the townspeople wildly celebrate with plenty of booze and parade around throughout the night dressed as devils. Cutting to news coverage of the investigation following Tommi’s disappearance, we see the toll this tragedy is taking on Manuel and Linda.
However, the film begins to slow down as it focuses heavily on the aftermath 5 years later. What keeps Deep in the Wood moving, aside from the curiosity of Tommi’s return, is the use of flashbacks. Placed throughout the film in chronological order, the night of Tommi’s disappearance is revisited, gradually piecing together the night of the incident as hidden secrets are revealed. Though the film is slow at times, the flashbacks help move the story forward propose questions followed by answers like puzzle pieces to a much bigger picture.
Adding to the somber mood of Manuel and Linda’s loss is the bleak and gritty cinematography used to reinforce a dark tone and the personal demons dwelling within the characters. This helps crucially to maintain the emotional struggles felt by each of the characters as well as the guilt carried by each one of them.
Driving the film from a deeper level are the performances of Caprio, Filippi and Nigro. Caprio gives an outstanding performance portraying 9-year-old Tommi whose behavior and facial expressions suggest something seriously troubling with the kid. The young actor’s blank stares were an eerie reminder of Harvey Stephen’s role as Damien in Richard Donner’s 1976 classic The Omen. Filippi gives a commendable performance as Linda, a woman who is burdened with guilt and tortured by thoughts of self-inflicted punishment. Nigro gives the most layered performance of the film as a grieving father resisting an urge to drink for the sake of what’s left of his marriage.
When it is revealed that Tommi is alive, he is filled with so much hope of being reunited with his son that he is at first blind to the boy’s unsettling behavior.
While this film is nothing groundbreaking, it is a well-crafted reminder of Clint Eastwood’s 2008 film The Changeling starring Angelina Jolie. Though it would have been interesting to see this feature take another direction, it is still a satisfyingly unnerving thriller with an unforeseeable twist. Deep in the Wood is a worthwhile feature that will be available on On Demand June 13th from Uncork’d Entertainment. You will also be able to check it out on September 27th when it is released on DVD.