Stranger in the Woods Review: A Noble But Flawed Horror Effort

Stranger in the Woods is a horror flick that makes a noble attempt to stand out from the crowded genre, directed by Adam Newacheck and written by Holly Kenney, who also stars as the film’s troubled protagonist, Olivia. In an era where horror films often bank on excessive gore and jump scares to thrill the audience, Stranger in the Woods endeavors to bring a narrative-focused approach to the table. While the movie does have its moments, a lack of innovation and a somewhat predictable storyline result in a mixed bag.

The Good:

The premise of Stranger in the Woods centers around Olivia, portrayed by Holly Kenney. Olivia, after the traumatic event of nearly drowning in a bathtub with a slit wrist following her fiancé’s funeral, embarks on a vacation with her friends. Olivia’s friends, Sam (Brendin Brown), Clayton (Teddy Spencer), Theresa (Paris Nicole), and Liam (Devon Deshaun Stewart), suspect her of attempting suicide, though Olivia is adamant that someone attacked her. This sets the stage for a narrative that delves into psychological horror, aiming to blend mystery with traditional scare tactics.

Holly Kenney’s portrayal of Olivia is commendable. She navigates the characters’ complex emotions with finesse, convincingly portraying someone wrestling with grief and fear. The supporting cast, including Brendin Brown and Teddy Spencer, turn in respectable performances, albeit occasionally falling into the traps of genre clichés. The dynamics among the friends contribute to some of the movie’s more compelling scenes, providing a glimpse into how tragedy and paranoia can strain relationships.

The Bad:

However, the film struggles significantly in pacing and suspense building. The director, Adam Newacheck, aims to weave tension and unease through a series of eerie encounters and revelations. Still, the execution falls flat, mainly due to the predictable nature of the plot. While the idea of a horror story revolving around psychological trauma and potential external threats is intriguing, Stranger in the Woods fails to offer new ideas or twists that haven’t been seen before in the genre.

The cinematography, handled by an unmentioned talent, oscillates between effective mood-setting and generic landscape shots. This approach adds little to the narrative. There are moments when the film captures the isolation and vulnerability of being in a secluded vacation spot, playing into the horror elements. Yet, these instances are too infrequent to sustain an atmosphere of dread or anticipation throughout the movie’s runtime.

Moreover, the script, penned by Holly Kenney, suffers from unevenness. Some dialogues manage to capture the rawness of the characters’ emotions effectively. However, others come off as stilted, detracting from the intended impact of key scenes. Additionally, the movie’s reliance on expository dialogues to push the narrative forward rather than showing character development or plot progression through actions, results in a somewhat disengaged viewing experience.

Where Stranger in the Woods does shine, albeit briefly, is in its attempts to explore deeper themes. Exploring mental health issues within a horror context could have been done by confronting personal demons in isolation. This opportunity is regrettably underutilized, overshadowed by the film’s ambition to adhere to conventional horror elements.

The climax of the film is perhaps the most telling part of its struggle to marry originality with genre expectations. Without venturing into spoiler territory, it can be said that the resolution feels rushed and unsatisfying. It offers little in terms of closure or insight into the characters’ fates. This hurried conclusion serves as a microcosm of the film’s overall challenge. Balancing the desire to innovate within the horror genre while delivering the expected thrills and chills.


Stranger in the Woods is a film with ambition from Adam Newacheck and writer-star, Holly Kenney. Despite the promising premise and moments of genuine character introspection, the film fails. It never breaks new ground, instead falling prey to familiar tropes and an execution that lacks suspense. The performances, especially by Kenney, are notable, but they are not enough to elevate the material beyond its inherent limitations.

Fans of psychological horror might find aspects of the movie to appreciate, particularly in its exploration of trauma and paranoia. However, for those seeking a truly innovative or edge-of-your-seat horror experience, Stranger in the Woods might not fulfill those expectations. Ultimately, this film exemplifies the challenges of crafting a compelling horror story that balances narrative depth with genre thrills. A more focused approach could have potentially transformed Stranger in the Woods into a standout entry in the genre. As it stands, it is an uneven, albeit earnest, addition to the horror film landscape.

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  • Acting - 6/10
  • Cinematography/Visual Effects - 5/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 5/10
  • Setting/Theme - 5/10
  • Watchability - 5/10
  • Rewatchability - 4/10
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About Caillou Pettis

Caillou Pettis is a professional film critic and journalist as well as the author of While You Sleep, The Inspiring World of Horror: The Movies That Influenced Generations, and co-author of Out of Time: True Paranormal Encounters. He has been writing in the entertainment industry for over seven and a half years professionally. Throughout the years, he has written articles for publications including Gold Derby, Exclaim!, CBR, Awards Radar, Awards Watch, Flickering Myth, BRWC, Starburst Magazine, Punch Drunk Critics, Mediaversity Reviews, Vinyl Chapters, Northern Transmissions, and Beats Per Minute.