Unsettling ‘Woodland’ invites audiences into the shadows
Jon Silverberg’s work on outdoor adventure shows took him up and down the British Columbia coast and into the world of secluded lodges.
“I found these isolated lodges to be very unique places: very beautiful, and almost haunted,” says the Vancouver-based filmmaker.
“These isolated places, they can bring out the best in you or the worst in you.”
In Silverberg’s case, these places brought out the best of the best in the form of Woodland, his feature film directorial debut that screens this week at the 2018 Whistler Film Festival.
The psychological thriller stars Richard Harmon (The 100) as Jake, a troubled photojournalist who heads to a remote Haida Gwaii lodge for a change of pace. Philip Granger (Ghost Wars) shines as Sparky, a veteran handyman who interacts with Jake during his journey into the shadows.
Sparky and Jake represent the best and the worst of isolation in action, according to Silverberg.
“When Richard’s character takes a job there, he brings his baggage up with him,” says Silverberg. “Isolation isn’t good for some people.”
But isolation does make for good, gripping, heart-pounding drama: Woodland is a relentless character-driven romp through the Pacific Northwest with punches of genre elements.
“I really wanted it to be pure escapism, and be the kind of entertainment that can transport you to another time,” says Silverberg. That other time is the 1980s: the era before cell phones, when life was (by 21st century standards) decidedly low-tech. “I wanted to take people back to a simpler time when there were less people around to help.” Silverberg chuckles. “They can’t just pick up their cell and get out of there.”
Cast and crew filmed Woodland over 11 days in early 2017. The bulk of shooting occurred on Vancouver Island, at a former fly-in lodge called Hidden Cove. “When you’re there, you certainly don’t see the road,” says Silverberg. “We felt like we were alone, and that’s the feeling we wanted.”
The central character of Jake was originally written as older, but Silverberg changed the age when his wife introduced him to Harmon’s work on The 100.
“My wife said, ‘You have to look at this guy, he’s perfect for what you’ve written,’ and I watched a couple of episodes with her and thought, ‘He’s really interesting.’” Silverberg reached out to Harmon’s agent – “and I got a call a couple weeks later and they said ‘Richard loves the script, when can you meet?’”
Harmon “got the material so well,” adds Silverberg. “He got the character. It was an amazing collaborative process from day one. I’ve never had such a close working relationship with an actor before. He’s in every scene. He’s in almost every shot of the film. I compare it a little bit to a film like Taxi Driver where you’re really deep in a character study. You’re following one character and you’re seeing the movie through his eyes. The film is tied to his performance and what he does on screen.”
Woodland also features performances from Frank C. Turner, Catherine Jack, and Amanda Tapping.
Woodland screens today – November 30 – at the 2018 Whistler Film Festival. Vancouver screenings are coming soon; follow @WoodlandMovie for updates.