Maybe it’s just me, but any time a film contains a well-made, practical FX creature, I’m going to be into it. Often times, that big scary monster is what saves an otherwise lackluster movie. Which is exactly the case with The Axiom…
…The debut feature of writer/director Nicholas Woods, The Axiom centers on a group of friends lead by McKenzie (Hattie Smith), who has brought everyone out to a national forest to look for her missing sister. Once the group of five gets there though, they discover that McKenzie’s sister isn’t just lost, but has stumbled through a portal and become trapped in a dimension of soul-possessing monsters. Proving why you should always stay on the forest trail. It’s there for a reason.
On the surface, there is nothing inherently wrong with The Axiom. Woods appears to be a competent director, delivering a film that is well-shot, with a carefully used budget. Overall, the film is well-made. The cast also provides average, albeit underwhelming, performances. Where the trouble lies in The Axiom revolves around the script.
Smith is a fine actress, and does well in her role of McKenzie. The problem is, McKenzie is a horribly unlikeable character, one that we have a hard time rooting for, and is constantly outshined by the others in terms of personality, whom are all pretty one note, but at least have “that thing” that separates them. See, McKenzie knows more than she’s saying, and as we learn early on, has known about the dangers of the park thanks to secrets in her sister’s journal (which the film never bothers to explain how her sister came about). We even see her warned in the first few minutes by the town “crazy”, Leon (played by an excellent William Kircher), which she still doesn’t tell anyone about. It really shouldn’t be a surprise though, because McKenzie doesn’t seem to have much of a connection with any of her friends, including her brother, Martin (Zac Titus). Maybe it’s a lack of chemistry between the cast, but McKenzie comes off as a shell of a person, perfect for stepping into as the audience, but not someone we really care about as a character.
Just as McKenzie is your utterly basic final girl, The Axiom is tropey horror in its most dull form. Everything you’d expect from a “don’t go in the woods” horror film is here. The harbinger (Leon) warning those darn kids about the dangers of the forest. The random diary with pages that explain everything. Hell, Martin even decides he’d rather fuck his girlfriend, Darcy (Nicole Dambro) in the middle of the woods, rather than look for his sister. At points, it feels as if we’re watching the first half of The Cabin in the Woods, the film is so by the numbers, but The Axiom isn’t in on the joke. Even the scares feel tired and intrusive, with ghosts popping up every few minutes only to disappear, and the occasional creature darting by to the sound of a loud, musical stinger. I won’t call it predictable because I hate that word, but we’ve seen this film enough times before to eliminate any genuine suspense, which The Axiom fails to establish.
So, about those monsters. The effects team deserves a round of applause for their work on The Axiom. I don’t imagine they were working with much a budget, yet the team supplies various ghosts, ghouls, and one enormous creature that has near the same awe-inspiring effect of the gigantic beasts in The Mist, which was unexpected and surprising in the best possible way. The stars of the show though are the body hopping demons, which are Pan’s Labyrinth-esque Pale Men with incredibly long, Freddy Krueger-like nails. These creatures are exceptionally well-designed, and instill the right amount of fear. I only wish they did more than slash a few throats. Credit to Woods for being ballsy enough as well to set these creatures in pure daylight, as the characters find themselves trapped in a dimension where the sun never sets. It’s a daring move for a practical FX creature feature, but Woods and his team shoot the creatures just well enough to never spoil the illusion that these are just some folks running around in body paint with giant fingers.
Overall though, The Axiom feels like a long hike through the woods, with just as much aimlessness as the characters. These people don’t really do much, and when McKenzie finally takes some action and decides to face off against what I’ll call the “main baddie”, the confrontation leaves a lot to be desired, as this is the one moment where a creature has almost no presence, probably thanks to the budget going elsewhere. The Axiom throws in a couple twists here and there, but many of these “surprises” come off as forced and convoluted, such as the explanation for what really happened to McKenzie’s sister.
The final minutes of The Axiom will likely leave you unsatisfied, but I will say this. Woods has established a fascinating idea in having multiple portals in a forest that leads to all kinds of monster-filled worlds, setting up plenty of possibilities. With the right script and budget, this is certainly a story that could be worth visiting again, yet lacks the elements to really make the script pop in this first film.
The Axiom is now available through Vertical Entertainment on VOD.
By Matt Konopka