Salem Horror Fest: Brightwood (2023)

Director: Dane Elcar

Running Time: 85 Minutes

Starring: Dana Berger, Max Woertendyke

Distorted sounds open writer/director Dane Elcar's debut feature, as Jen (Dana Berger) listens to a podcast about divorce during a jog, while her husband Dan (Max Woertendyke) struggles to keep up. She's angry with him after the previous night left her humiliated, when Dan got drunk and hit on Jen's co-workers at her celebratory work party. Their plan is to do the park trail and circle the pond before heading back home, where the long-term pair can start grappling with their future. Those intentions are halted when the journey does not end, as the pond's exit seemingly vanishes.

A fantastic parallel forms between the Twilight Zone style circumstances and the couple's relationship, as the pair find themselves repeatedly going in circles with little promise of things changing. An eerie atmosphere fills the previously innocuous location, as more strange occurrences pop up the longer the pair remain by the pond and the rusty "No Swimming" sign.

There's a sense of frustration from the couple, having spent so long together and no longer having time to spare enduring each other's company. They both approach the fracturing relationship the same way as the inescapable scenario, with Jen constantly on the move as though she's trying to escape while Dan tries finding a shortcut to their normal lives. Any facades are peeled away due to the circumstances, with their true feelings and characters being unveiled, aided by the terrific performances which spectacularly conveys annoyance alongside quiet sadness.

Elcar wonderfully makes use of the low-key resources, effectively layering the story while making the location feel endless and inescapable. Interesting directions are taken to highlight the differing paths, playing on audience expectations while unveiling unsettling revelations in ways reminiscent of 2007's Timecrimes. By the end, the journey manages to find happiness while showing the pair are truly better off apart.

Brightwood made its East Coast premiere at Salem Horror Fest