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The Woodsman | Review

I am Not a Monster

Kassel’s character study merges creepiness with kindness.

In a little over a year, Newmarket films has backed up intelligent, yet controversial projects with one that challenged our view of Jesus and another that asked viewers to empathize with a serial killer, now parking itself among family holiday films is the portrait of a pedophile’s reintegration into society. For those who can stomach the idea, writer-director Nicole Kassel’s The Woodsman, carefully details the mindset of a predator that has been de-clawed, where his urges are suppressed under the heavy guilt but which come to surface in its weaker moments. Filled with hurt, denial, rage, and regret, the character of Walter (Kevin Bacon – Mystic River) is constructed with two conflicting personalities. Kassel uses a Little Red Riding Hood motif and she flavors the protagonist with the attributes of both the Wolf and The Woodsman. His wolf/predator side slowly immerges from the narrative device beginnings as when Walter adopts a new bird-feeder, peers out his window into a school-yard and when he gets challenged by Q & A sessions with his social aid – the film reserves the heightened urge of a pedophile in one rather disturbing sequence that sees the red cape motif found from the famed fairytale. Paralleled to these missteps is the woodsman/protector demeanor which shows how badly Walter’s wanting to be normal by turning over the page for good.

For a first-time effort, Kassell keeps this compact, economically and visually bare effectively using images and sound to further the protagonist’s inner world. Keeping a linear form – there is no back-story, nor pained childhood trauma explanations to interfere with the film’s calculated strong pauses that involve Bacon who excels with the restrained emotions which are also dispensed by the characterizations from the supporting cast of Kyra Sedgwick (Personal Velocity), Benjamin Bratt (Thumbsucker) and Mos Def (The Italian Job). Def’s intimidating parole officer whose making the neighborhood safe by menacing Walter, offers an interesting equation for such role. The biggest task from the script is to humanize a pedophile – the raw approach of the film only half-completes the task – and a slight distraction with the Red Riding motif leads the narrative into its own contrived trap. While The Woodsman does have some rough patches – Kassel’s aspired authenticity merits some congratulatory marks and it will be remarked from general indie audiences.

Rating 2 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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