Plot: Rachel (Ella West Jerrier) spends a lot of her time online and like most of her peers, has seen the videos about the eerie urban legend known as The Suzerain. This creepy presence is said to befriend young people and adults alike, but some believe he is a benevolent force, while others claim he has much darker intentions. He is said to have a mansion deep in the woods and if Rachel is to be believed, he allows his most trusted friends to live there in total freedom. She sees The Suzerain as an escape from her bullies at school and other stressors, so when he makes a new friend in Kaitlyn (Sophie Grace), she makes sure to tell her about The Suzerain. But Kaitlyn has some mental issues even she doesn’t understand, so she ends up pulled into the legend much deeper than she should. She even hallucinates that she sees The Suzerain, which thrills Rachel and prompts her to suggest a sacrifice in the hopes of winning favor with the fictional internet legend. But when the plan begins to include violence against a classmate, will the girls take their obsession with The Suzerain too far?
Entertainment Value: This is Lifetime’s take on the real life Slender Man case and while it takes some dramatic liberties, Terror in the Woods is a solid chiller and much eerier than most of the network’s movies. The narrative is in the ballpark of the case that earned global attention when two young girls concocted a plot to kill a classmate to impress Slender Man. The main shifts come in the parental arena to add some side threads and general drama, but overall Terror in the Woods cuts close to the real events and feels believable. This isn’t a melodramatic, over the top approach either, but a dark, ominous one that touches on peer pressure, isolation, mental illness, and how the two girls escalated each other’s impulsive natures. The pace is deliberate but keeps you reeled in and Terror in the Woods unfolds like a horror movie, not a thriller or drama like Lifetime is known for. I was impressed by how oppressive the atmosphere and mood is here, this is an effective chiller that is rooted in real life, but feels like a dark, tasteful horror picture. I do think the movie gets quite preachy toward the end, but it also highlights the need for mental health awareness, so I can’t hold that against Terror in the Woods. Lifetime doesn’t veer into the horror realm often, but it pays off here and genre fans should appreciate this one.
This movie has some terrific performances and given that the central roles are played by children, that is even more impressive. The strongest work comes from Sophie Grace, who had a tough role in Kaitlyn, as she had to convey the mental turmoil within her character, but also retain that childlike innocence. Not an easy ask by any means, but Grace nails the role and in truth, her performance alone is reason enough to give Terror in the Woods a look. As her mind unravels, she plays it so well and brings across the darkness that lurks within, but not to overblown levels. A restrained, effective effort that shows massive potential for Grace as a performer. Ella West Jerrier also turns in a terrific performance as the quirky Rachel and she has great chemistry with Grace, which helps the dynamic of their twisted friendship resonate. And I have to mention, fans of The Office will want to watch as Angela Kinsey once again plays a no nonsense, preachy role as a concerned mother. The cast also includes Skylar Morgan Jones, Ashley Lonardo, Tracey Bonner, and Yohance Myles.