Brightwood (2023, dir. Dane Elcar)

by | Mar 21, 2024


Certificate: 15

Running Time: 84 mins

UK Distributor: Cinephobia Releasing

UK Release Date: 21 March 2024


Dana Berger, Max Woertendyke


Dane Elcar (director, writer, producer, cinematographer, editor), Max Woertendyke (producer), Jason Cook (composer)


A couple (Berger and Woertendyke) find themselves trapped in a time warp during a morning jog…


In recent years, the time-loop concept that Groundhog Day once popularised has seeped its way into numerous subgenres, from slashers to rom-coms to sci-fi action blockbusters, many of which follow similar patterns even if the contexts are vastly different from one another. However, filmmaker Dane Elcar’s feature debut Brightwood – an expansion of his 2018 short film The Pond – fuses the time-loop concept with both a pretty freaky metaphysical horror, and a most unexpected other type of movie: the marriage-in-crisis drama, i.e. films like Kramer vs. Kramer and Marriage Story, which provides the icing on the already unnerved cake.

The film starts as married couple Jen (Dana Berger) and Dan (Max Woertendyke) are heading out on a morning jog together. From their fiery hostility toward one another, as well as references to some embarrassing moments from a party the night before, it’s clear that their relationship is seriously on the rocks, and that they can barely stand to be beside one another, let alone jogging in unison. However, once they take their jog to a secluded pond, Jen and Dan soon find themselves unable to find the path back to civilisation, and any attempts to go round or through the surrounding woods always leads them back to the same spot, right next to a rusted “No Swimming” sign. There is also no concept of time, for the sun is always shining high in the sky, and a number of distorted noises come in at regular intervals. What’s more, they start seeing a sinister hooded figure that may also be one of many other versions of them that are wandering about thanks to the warped nature of this bizarre time pocket.

Though it is certainly one of those films that you can tell was made on a severely limited budget, right down to the two-person cast and an entirely on-location shoot in the middle of the woods, Brightwood makes the most of its circumstances by doing whatever it can to feel more ambitious than it would have otherwise been allowed to be. Elcar, who also served as the cinematographer on this film (as well as the editor, writer, and producer alongside lead actor Max Woertendyke), captures a decent number of crisp, atmospheric shots of the desolate woodland area that we, and the protagonists, are unable to escape from. There’s something unnerving about the constant daylight, which Elcar also turns into a sinister presence with its bright, almost blinding light that shuns visual effects – most likely because the production couldn’t afford them – to rely solely on natural resources to generate an increasingly hot-tempered environment.

It’s also a film that lives or dies on the strength of its two central (and only) performances, but luckily both Woertendyke and Dana Berger are more than up to the challenge. The actors put in deeply unnerved turns as a couple who, when we first meet them, are so openly spiteful of one another that you’re instantly uncomfortable being around them as they hash out their differences during petty arguments. Berger, in particular, is on fiery form as the Orange is the New Black veteran wastes no opportunity to lay into her slobby partner, with insults and put-downs as sharp as her thousand-yard stare of death. As the film goes on, their relationship becomes more central in some tender dialogue scenes where both actors get the chance to convey some suppressed emotions and thoughts in tender and humanistic ways.

Then, of course, when things get more and more trippy as the psychological effects of this time-loop become increasingly apparent, Elcar and his two leads effectively show the severe frustrations of being stuck in a seemingly inescapable situation. One memorable moment sees Woertendyke’s Dan breaking down in laughter as he and Berger’s Jen find themselves once again by that “No Swimming” sign, and it’s not just a compelling piece of acting on the part of Woertendyke but also an interesting play by the filmmaker, who here puts on full display the genuine fear that these people, as awkward and volatile as they can be, might not exactly make it out of this with their lives, or at the very least their sanity, intact. A few unexpected turns later on involving other versions of the same people in this loop are also compelling in their unpredictability, for you’re never sure which version of Jen or Dan we’re actually following, right up until their motives become very apparent.

As often is the case with low-budget mind-bending horrors like this, Brightwood retains a sense of ambiguity as it reaches a shocking climax, but there are certain things that are left too much to the audience’s imagination, which despite concluding things on a sensical note does still seem like more needed to be explained about certain things. For what it does leave the viewer with, though, the film is an impressively tight horror film that proves no matter how limited the resources, the time-loop concept can be used to create some truly engaging cinema.


Brightwood is a mind-bending fusion of the time-loop concept with the marriage-on-the-rocks drama by way of a psychological horror, and it blends all those elements together fairly well on a low budget that allows for some thoughtful filmmaking and a pair of unnerved lead performances.

Four of of five stars


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