Unceremoniously given the direct-to-DVD treatment while countless sub-par studio thrillers glut multiplexes nationwide, Lucky McKee’s The Woods nonetheless proves to be one of the most polished and inventive horror flicks of the still-ongoing year, a synthesis of classical supernatural and sexualized imagery that expands upon, rather than simply regurgitates, its celebrated predecessors. Carrie, Suspiria, The Wicker Man, and 1980’s teen high school dramas are all part of the film’s ominous fabric, but the means by which McKee (working from David Ross’ sharp script) references and borrows from these many influences is neither plagiaristic nor stale. Crafting a malevolently sensual atmosphere via keen compositional framing, low-key special effects, and a torrent of menstrual and genital symbolism, McKee casts his tale – about an unruly teenager named Heather (Agnes Bruckner) who’s forced by her callous mother (Emma Campbell) to attend a boarding school run by frosty Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson) in 1965 – as a terrifying portrait of puberty. Such an allegorical aim isn’t, in and of itself, groundbreaking, and yet the director’s unsettling mise-en-scène, full of hovering tracking shots and expertly spliced-together montages of penetration/nature visuals, gives the material a freshness that’s aided by Bruckner’s controlled performance as the perpetually harassed, potentially psychic Heather. Amidst the jittery witches, poison milk, bloody nightgowns, vaginal-shaped wounds, and phallic tree branches lurks McKee’s increasingly trademark proto-feminism, which once again comes tinged with lesbian undercurrents. Yet for a film as indebted to genre as this one, it’s only fitting that the eventual hero charged with leading the school’s young girls to a brighter tomorrow is tree-fighting Ash himself, Bruce Campbell.