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By Matthew Sorrento | May 18, 2008

Ever since Sam Raimi made his debut, many aspiring horror directors looked to the woods for inspiration. Raimi’s original conceit in “Evil Dead” – that a curse in the woods can make anyone turn into a monster – was novel at the time and made for a new awareness in the genre’s flexibility. Though Leatherface’s clan resides near a forest, Raimi later showed that a simple premise can yield equal amounts of surprise, gore and humor. But today, in a post-”Cabin Fever” climate, the woods have been just about tapped dry. (Such an ever-active genre always needs to move location.)

It won’t take viewers long to realize that “Green Eyed Monster” goes for this tapped-out vein. Here, the curse is based on Spanish folklore, but the threat comes down to another woodland-dwelling haunt. A group of 20-somethings has come to find buried money, and when the prize is unearthed by a stroke of luck, bad fortune follows: a chest of voodoo-like items appears in the same hole. There’s talk of relatives who were witches, as good a motivation for a curse as any. But lines like “Some say my grandma would do bad things to people” can throw everything overboard. The backstory that situates the buried money is a MacGuffin in the basest sense, as the premise remains as unclear as the logic and specifications of the curse. Sure, a possessive force should maintain some mystery – but when we can’t understand it at all, we tend not to care too much.

It doesn’t help that every character in the bunch remains flat. Again, someone has to develop and grow interesting if we are to care about character well-being. I’m unsure if the cast is to blame. Writer/director Gabriel Barboza presents his characters in a somber tone throughout, while a trip out to the woods would usually suggest a good time. (Has the underage youth of today found a better place to booze and let out? – And what other reason is there to trek into the woods?) As a young Latina with an uncanny itch, Estella Gomez channels a believable terror and proves to be well-suited for melodramatic setups. But Andrea VanEpps’ performance is so stilted and tone-deaf that you’d think her footage is from another production, perhaps one about pod people. The most vivid presence is the woods itself, as Barboza is most comfortable framing craggy branches and their trunks.

And Barboza proves to be comfortable letting his theme – hidden money – run out of control. “Green Eyed Monster” was filmed with a built-in publicity stunt; the film purports to reveal clues for a real-life $10,000 prize, apparently still available. I know that horror films tend to exploit character and situation for thrills, but should an entire film be exploited just for its publicity? Here’s a “monster” that has consumed itself.

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