Review: Yelyna De Leon’s and Luis Iga Garza’s Murd...

Review: Yelyna De Leon’s and Luis Iga Garza’s Murder in the Woods

‘Nothing but wild animals and punk kids looking to catch a thrill’

Listen to this podcast episode of Plática con Pueblo, where Richard Requena discusses Murder in the Woods with its creators.

Writer Yelyna De Leon and director Luis Iga Garza give what they call an homage to the classic horror film genre  with their 2017 film Murder in the Woods. The film follows a group of teenagers who are camping at a cabin in the woods when mystery, horror and, yep, you guessed it, murders ensue.  

Murder in the Woods is now being screened across the country at drive-ins and select theatres. The movie can also be rented and bought online beginning today, September 18. 

De Leon said she wrote the screenplay in honor of her grandmother, who told her all of the spooky Latinx tales like La Llorona and Los Duendes when she was a kid.

“For this movie, it really felt like a love letter to my grandmother,” De Leon said. “She already passed away, but it was to honor all those things and those stories she instilled in me as a kid.”

The film has a predominantly Latinx cast that consists of up-and-coming actors like Jeanette Samano from Female Fight Squad, José Julián and Chelsea Rendon, who were in A Better Life, as well as the more-established actor Danny Trejo. 

Garza said working with Trejo and the young cast provided a huge lesson to him as a director.  

“Once Danny Trejo walks into the set it makes you bring your A-game. Everybody knows this is real,” he said.

“For this movie, it really felt like a love letter to my grandmother,” De Leon said. “She already passed away, but it was to honor all those things and those stories she instilled in me as a kid.”

Additionally, Garza said it was important to him that the predominantly Latinx cast was  authentic and that there were no Latinx stereotypes or one-dimensional characters in the movie. Common stereotypes could include a character who does not speak English or gangsters or maids. 

“Growing up we never saw ourselves represented on the big screen. In this type of film they just had one person of color and they would always kill him first,” he said. “For us, that was the excitement and reason we’ve been pushing so hard to get this out there.”  

When it comes to Latinx representation, some might think about the #OscarsSoWhite controversy from a couple years back — the 2016 Academy Awards where very few or no people of color were nominated. But the issue of representation goes farther than not being recognized for your work. In major motion pictures, people of color have very few opportunities in the entertainment business in the first place.

A 2019 study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California found that of the 100 highest-grossing films of 2017 to 2018, Latinxs made up 4.5 percent of speaking roles. When it came to lead roles, that figure shrank to 3 percent. The figures for producers and directors were also 3 and 4 percent, respectively. 

In the same time period, Latinxs also were the highest rate of moviegoers among ethnic groups, according to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The MPAA said Latinxs went to the movies an average of 4.5 times in 2017, while Caucasians went to the movies 3.2 times. 

“It’s very hard to break into [the entertainment] industry,” De Leon said. “As an actor myself, I’ll have 100 auditions and I’ll be lucky if I get one.” 

Having had this experience, De Leon, who was also the casting director for the film, said she wanted to find actors who could represent people of color on the big screen.

And that’s exactly what they did. The Latinx cast gives a real performance that shows that Latinxs can have fun, be a part of horror flicks and be real people. They have flaws, and they have twists, and they can have multidimensional storylines. There are no maids, no gangsters and no characters who do not speak in English. And in that simplicity, they too can be as Danny Trejo puts it in the film, just “punk kids looking to catch a thrill.”


Header image by Phoebe Nerem