Macabre…ish Horror Reviews: The Astral Woods
The Astral Woods, 2023/ 1 hr 22 min
Liz (Alexandria Payne) is talked into an insurance scam, the plan is for her to disappear for seven years, while her husband, Shawn (Marvin Ritchie) puts on a good show at home. It has to be her because she has no family and doesn’t work, it’ll be easier if it’s her rather than Shawn. They will have help with this and it’ll only cost them 10% of the $2 million they are expecting to receive if they pull this off. The plan is, he will visit her once a year once a year and she will live in seclusion, eating MREs and taking supplements. There will be a phone but only for emergencies.
When Shawn connects with the guy (Keekee Suki) who’s supposed to be helping with this, he changes the deal, 40%. The next morning, Liz, is woken up early and she tries to back out of it but Shawn informs her that they will be killed if she doesn’t. Shawn brings her tea and she is knocked out.
Liz wakes up in a bag, outside of a remote cabin. Inside, a phone rings and she is warned by a man that she is to never leave the property for any reason. The lights will be turned off at 8, rations will be delivered every month and she’s allotted only one emergency phone call a year, meaning she must be dying, there are no other emergencies. Then the phone goes dead.
Meanwhile, Shawn is home dealing with police and insurance, setting up the story and starting the clock on their seven year wait. Doug Wallace (Jason Skeen) is doing his own investigation for the insurance company and brings up the fact that Liz had a male friend, Jay Giles, that she texted a lot and he notices none of her belongings are missing from the house. This infuriates Shawn and he assaults Wallace. The man believes this is an insurance scam and there is no changing his mind.
Later that night, Shawn hears someone in his house and it’s the shadowy guy that is ‘helping’ them pull this off. He puts a gun to Shawn’s head and reminds him that if they find out or the insurance money isn’t paid out, he and Liz will be tortured and killed.
A year passes and Liz languishes in solitude, she now hates Shawn. She thinks about the many times he’s brought up this plan and how he sold it to her. It’s an extreme plan to get out of poverty, but it’s his plan, not hers.
One night, Liz realizes the bible is actually a little safe and she figures out the code. Inside is a geiger counter and cassette player with tapes recorded in 1982. It’s another man’s voice who warns the listener that if you are listening, it’s already too late.
The deal is not real and the land is not just woods. This stranger mapped out the place, left a geiger counter and recordings to help the next victim survive what will happen next.
He explains that this area is some kind of native grounds and every seven or eight years, creatures come out to feed. They are shapeshifters that only come out at night and they like to tease and torture their prey. Then something knocks on her window, the phone that never rings, rings and then Shawn comes out of a closet…then Liz wakes up.
Outside, one of her rings is off her finger and sitting on the rail of the porch.
Wallace pops up on Shawn who is on the phone with the contact, wondering when he can see his wife, it’s been 3 years. Wallace tries to convince Shawn to give it up and tells him to look up insurance scam/families killed. But Shawn stays strong and after he goes to work, Wallace breaks into his house, bugs it and goes through his belongings.
And in the cabin, Liz is listening to the tapes, and the man tells her to follow the map to a specific point, a metal box by a tree. She’s to open it and there’s a skull with something attached to it. You can touch it and go anyway, the future or back in time, he says. After Liz touches it, she travels through time but seems like no time at all and when she returns, it is dark. Something is lurking nearby. Listening to the tape, the voice apologizes for what she had to experience and says he made the tape for her and he used her name.
Shawn receives a box and inside a phone rings. He is warned that someone bugged his house and possibly his phone. And that they cleaned the house already. Also, inside the box are photos of Liz. She has been there for six years. The contact offers to facilitate her death if he’d like. He impresses upon Shawn that what he did to her was terrible and she’ll probably be angry at him when she returns.
Back at the cabin, on the tape, the man says Liz can ask him anything and the tape will answer. She asks how many fingers is she holding up. He answers correctly. And she is struggling with this. He says he’s probably dead right now when she asks if he can hear her now.
He explains that he arrived there the same way she did. And his wife and son were killed when they went to the police for help when the terms kept changing. He didn’t survive the guilt. He says the people who operate this place are descendants of the land and they bring people here to feed the beings that live here.
Once the seven year mark arrives, the man on the phone wants to change the deal again. He tells Shawn to keep the money but to kill Wallace because he knows too much. He is ordered to bring Wallace’s body to a specific location. The man has already summoned Wallace to Shawn’s house so he can do the deed. Wallace is angry he couldn’t catch him and prove the fraud and that makes it easy for Shawn to complete his end of the deal.
Liz tries to use the phone and it almost worked. She finally records her own message on the recorder. She plans to try to hike her way off the property. After a long day, she wakes up back in the cabin and Shawn is there, cooking. They argue about this situation. She then tries to explain that there is evil in the woods but he doesn’t believe it. She says she has seen his plan to kill her and keep the money. They fight and Shawn ends up wounded and Liz leaves him there.
On her way off the property, she finds human remains, that she presumes belongs to the man who made the tapes. And she plays the tape she finds in his pocket and talks to him, he says he helped her by removing the bullets from Shawn’s gun. He asks her to remove his bones and give him a proper burial, so maybe he can be free of this place too.
This indie film was written and directed by Isaac Rodriguez. It’s a thriller with a slow burn and many good twists and unexpected end. It’s a tiny by perfect cast. There is some blood and a few remains but this is not gory or very graphic.