As genre fans we know that there are a lot of horror films that take place in the woods. From classics like “Evil Dead” and “Friday the 13th” to your more common genre entries like “Wrong Turn.” The deep woods just have a certain mysticism to them that allow them to be a natural breeding ground for terror. You’re isolated from society in such a primal way, that it speaks to our most base fears as humans. But what if the thing we needed to fear most wasn’t what was hiding in the woods, but the woods themselves?
In “The Axiom” McKenzie (Hattie Smith) sets out with her brother Martin (Zac Titus) and a group of friends in search of her missing sister Marylyn who disappeared in a National Park. However, McKenzie soon realizes that Marylyn is not just lost in the woods, but in a mysterious pocket dimension known as the Axiom. With the aid of an eccentric guide named Leon (William Kircher), McKenzie and her friends venture into the Axiom and discover a dimension full of unexpected horrors.
I immediately fell in love with the concept of this film. Whether it was intentional or not, I like that this film sets up an explanation as to why there are always weird things going on in the woods. In the film they put forward the idea that there are these pocket dimensions that have hidden doorways that people accidentally stumble into. And in each dimension there are unique and untold horrors waiting to be discovered. Who’s to say that one pocket dimension doesn’t lead you to a camp where a killer in a hockey mask waits. Or perhaps one can lead you to a realm where an infectious flesh eating disease is consuming people. Of course, none of these things are mentioned by the film, but it’s fun to imagine that the Axiom is responsible for a great number of horror movie scenarios.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really delve deep into those concepts, instead it tells a very tight and focused story about McKenzie and her friends being trapped in an Axiom where they are being driven insane and turned into evil killing machines. This creates an interesting dilemma as you have this grand meta-narrative taking place, but the film is mostly focused on the friends being tormented. The film exposes you to just enough about the Axiom that it creates a good air of mystery and intrigue, but then that element becomes so provocative that I started to lose interest in what was going on with McKenzie and her friends and I wanted to see the film explore the greater world at large. It’s a strange problem as they created a truly unique world to play in, but focused too long on an aspect that wasn’t as interesting to me.
Now, that’s not to say that the story of McKenzie and her friends is bad. Far from it. If you removed all aspects of the Axiom, the story would still be entertaining simply for the fact that you have an excellent cast driving the plot. There are characters like Edgar (Taylor Flowers) who gives an excellent heartbreaking performance of a man struggling to hold on to his sanity. Then there’s Gerrick (Michael Peter Harrison) who brings a bit of levity to the film with his down-to-earth comedic performance. It’s easy for the comedic relief in a horror film to be overbearing, but Gerrick keeps it grounded and natural. Honestly, one of my favorite aspects of the film is how natural everyone feels together. It’s almost like you’re watching real long time friends go about their day and casually poke fun at each other. This was a truly good cast that injected a lot of heart into the horror.
The real standout though is William Kircher who plays Leon. Kircher stretches his acting chops by playing a character that ranges from warm and friendly, to ominous, to straight out sinister. He’s a bit of an enigma in the movie and one of the aspects I wish the film had focused more on.
And that’s the struggle I have with this film. There are a lot of aspects I really enjoyed and a lot of threads, that if woven together, could have made for an even better movie. As it stands, it’s a movie that feels a little disjointed and one that doesn’t have a full grasp of its own identity. I recommend seeing it, it’s not a perfect film, but the blend of meta-horror and psychological terror is an experience that shouldn’t be missed. It shows a great deal of potential for director and writer Nicholas Woods who marks his feature length debut with “Axiom.” If anything, this movie has put Woods on my radar and I can’t wait to see what he does next.