The Widow is a Russian film in the vein of the Blair Witch movies. It’s a story about a group of people who stumble into the web of a local myth, learning only too late that stories and legends have a power that sometimes just cannot be escaped.
The film follows a search and rescue team as they strike out into the densely wooded wilderness to locate a missing boy. They are accompanied by a woman shooting documentary footage of the work the rescue team does and how they operate. It’s dangerous and often disappointing work, as they so rarely find their targets in such a densely wooded area, much less locate them alive. Their search for the missing boy gets derailed when instead, they happen across a naked woman, lost among the trees. She is awake, but unresponsive to their questions, and seemingly confused. They work to get her back to the vehicle and to the safety of civilization.
Leaving the forest proves to be a difficult task, because, as they eventually learn, they are firmly in the territory of the Limping Widow, a local folk legend. Supposedly, a woman strangled her husband to death and then faced a horrific vigilante justice at the hands of the villagers. Now her spirit haunts the forest and exacts revenge upon any who enter her domain.
The Widow is strongest in the space that centers around the folktale. It’s the kind of story that really sinks in the second you hear it; the kind of story that gets whispered at slumber parties and around campfires. It gets told and retold and eventually takes on a life of its own in the community where it originated. The story itself almost has as much life in it as the spirit of the ghostly Widow that plagues our characters.
Though not filmed exclusively from the first-person perspective, the film definitely has a vérité quality to it, bringing the viewer into the thick of the action. Where the film struggles is in the pacing. As intriguing as the setup is, director Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy doesn’t give it adequate room to breathe as it unfolds. These characters are lost in the wilderness, trying everything they can to get back to safety, and we never really feel the accompanying sense of desperation and fear that the cast is trying to communicate. There just isn’t enough space in the runtime to allow us that sense of really being lost and afraid. So much is explained or alluded to and nothing is left for the audience to actually feel. We rush from one plot point to the next, and the story never gets a chance to settle in and build up the proper tension.
It’s unfortunate, because between the framework and the creep factor provided by the legend of the Widow, this really could have been a frightening and effective ghost story. Instead, it feels like a series of opportunities that got missed in the name of moving along to the next moment.
Though The Widow struggles to find its footing, the folktale at the heart of it is a worthwhile one. The story of the Widow herself definitely has that old-world quality to it that immediately feels like the sort of legend passed down through the generations, whispered at night as parents tell their far too adventurous children to stay out of the woods and not to stray too far from home.
Movie Score: 2.5/5