What Hides in the Woods

Author: A.M. Shine

Mina is a loner. She likes her life and its aloofness. Her apartment with its lack of personality, its austere neutrality. Mina likes to avoid her sister, the one who has the perfect life, perfect husband, perfect child. Mina likes being on her own. Just her and her sketch pad, her silent studies of other people, never getting too close. But . . . Mina does need money, so when a chance encounter with a friend at the pub lands an easy job in her lap – drive a fancy parrot to its new owner – she takes it. Little does she know that it will change everything.

When her car breaks down at the edge of a mysterious wood at dusk, she is called to safety by a frantic voice. Armed only with her sketch pad and the parrot, Mina sinks into a new world of hiding with four strangers. A world illumed by a bright bulb that brings shelter at night while the things outside howl and peer in. Each person has been stranded here, guided to the light, to the shelter that protects them from the things that go bump in the night. During the day they emerge, seek food. At night, they return before the creatures rise from their burrows. They are too far away from civilization for help, for hope. But Mina wonders – why are they all accepting this sentence so blithely? Why are they all following Madeline, the mean old woman who rules the roost and claims she knows what will keep them safe, keep them alive?

The Watchers presents an interesting premise, building off Irish folklore and that alone-in-the-woods creepiness. Yet, despite all the effort to create a tone, to build suspense and isolation, the story falters. It tries too hard with its descriptions, but not hard enough with its logic or its character building. Mina remains a loner. Her three compatriots are likewise unknowable beyond their primal fear and depression. There is no true emotion here, despite the creeping horror, and soon the portentous descriptions and lowering forest blend together to create something more tepid than terrifying.

Firstly, the story doesn’t make a lot of sense. The folklore is only revealed in stages, and only weakly. We don’t get a full sense of the creatures in the ground, or of why this shelter with its magic light is able to keep them at bay. Do they want to eat the people or watch them, or both? What is their motive, and why is escape so impossible when there is full daylight to walk and wonder? Why has none of these people tried to find out more, tried harder to escape or suss out the true nature of the creatures to battle them? Everything is accepted on faith, but the story hasn’t earned our trust yet. We accept nothing, and we wonder at these bland characters who ask so little, who have so little verve and fight left.

Image by Nanne Tiggelman from Pixabay

As the story unfolds, each character remains aloof, an enigma. We are told everything, nothing is shown, and nothing rings authentically. The depression is evident, but not the stalwart human desire to survive or even really the fear of this unseen howling thing with its burrows. Everyone accepts everything but we, the reader, wonder. It’s too convenient. Too . . . plotted.

Finally, some things start to change, a story emerges, and it starts to get better. The characters are still stilted, still wooden, but we have more backstory now, a target for our suspicions, somewhere to go. It gets interesting. Not fascinating. Not “I can’t stop myself from reading,” but interesting. It’s the last half of the story, away from the woods, oddly, that is the most powerful and that comes close to the beauty of the original myth.

In the end, The Watchers has a lot of potential, but it’s both overblown and under-executed at the same time. It would have fared better as a novella or even a movie, something more focused on aesthetics than the depth of the people involved. The myth needed more focus, more teasing out. The writing needed to stop trying so hard to create atmosphere and instead let its characters show us the story. This was ok, but not especially inspiring. A read that I neither hated nor loved.

– Frances Carden

Follow my reviews on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/xombie_mistress

Follow my reviews on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/FrancesReviews

Frances Carden
Latest posts by Frances Carden (see all)