A cabal of kids defect from society into the wild, dragging along a Wii, mini horses, Cheez-Its, and all the consumerist comforts of home. Dean (Justin Phillips) narrates their Web 2.0 Walden in a stilted parody of a Malick naïf—the gang members appear to be twentysomethings but talk like they’re half their age. Incessant voiceover describes the rise and fall of Daniel (Toby David), the group’s would-be messianic leader, who variously cribs from Jefferson, Mao, and Christ. From the get-go, Daniel seems more tolerated by his “disciples” than the charismatic prophet he fancies himself to be; when an unspoken catastrophe seals off the road to civilization, seeing Daniel’s slackening grip on the reins of power has none of the intended dramatic impact. The Woods seems conceived as a parody of certain tendencies in fashion, though the particular generation of back-to-nature posturing that’s being riffed on—photographer Ryan McGinley’s city-kids-going-starkers-in-nature shots, feathered freak-folk accessories, Vashti Bunyan CD re-releases—is about a decade old and, if it still warrants satire, deserves something sharper than this. The Woods suffers additionally from comparison with David Wain’s recently released Wanderlust, a far finer burlesque of American Utopianism that strikes a balance between improv indulgence and structure that evades Matthew Lessner’s baggy mess, a send-up of a communal project made of vague goals and empty postures that is ultimately indistinguishable from its target.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 29, 2012