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  • Writer's pictureMartyn Wakefield


Dir. Kier-La Janisse

Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield

WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED is the ultimate compendium of folk horror. Over the 3 hours, the documentary explores every corner of the world and leaves no stone unturned as it uncovers what it truly means to be a folk horror.

Like any good documentary, what makes WOODLANDS... quintessential viewing is its openness and rationale as to what defines the genre, as such exploring territories previously uncharted as it crosses borders that may otherwise be ignored in a straight exploration of the clichés and presumptions audiences would have.

Split across 6 segments, each one goes through different elements and eras of the genre with interviews past and present with writers, directors and actors who give first hand experience as well as interesting theories.

1: The Unholy Trinity

The opening segment covers what has been dubbed the Unholy Trinity of folk horror ,three films that are the poster boys of the genre. Robin Hardy's THE WICKER MAN, Michael Reeves WITCHFINDER GENERAL and Piers Haggard's THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW. These three films stand for the epitomy of what it is to define folk horror and much the inspiration of what came thereafter.

An interesting introduction and it's always great to see Ian Ogilvy on screen.

2: Who Is This Who Is Coming - Signposting folk horror

What defines folk horror? Well, there isn't a rulebook and the remainder of the documentary runs through themes and familiarities across the horror genre in totality and in doing so doesn't define what it is to be folk horror but instead opens up as to what the definition means. Referencing typical tropes as seen in the likes of DOCTOR WHO (THE DAEMONS), M.R. James Ghosts Stories for Christmas, the works of Peter Kneale to RAWHEAD REX, but also touching on TV and non-horror pictures that somehow depict the horrors of social change and it's impact across fiction including REQUIEM FOR THE VILLAGE and even children's fantasy - MOONDIAL, THE OWL SERVICE and even BAGPUSS.

The highlight of this section is the introduction to another trilogy of films, ROBIN REDBREAST, RED SHIFT and PENDA'S FEN. Three films under the Play of the Day banner that really surface the social political events that trigger the horrors of change.

A key highlight is the exploration of Belgium film, ANCHORESS and showcase of the most horrifying scene in British horror, not the burning wicker man, the scene of Reece Shearsmith high on mushrooms.

3. We don't go back: Paganism and Witchcraft

A segment that discusses the evolution of paganism and witchcraft, even if loosely associated, the elements are further explored across the documentary and give clear roots to alienation of individuals that makes the core definition of a folk horror film.

4. American Folk Horror

Divulging into Indian burial grounds and hillbilly horror on entry this chapter may appear to have detracted from the well worn path but certainly opens up the definition of what defines the genre.

Insightful view of voodoo and hoodoo and the clear relevance of why they are included in this documentary. The mention of films such as ANGEL HEART, WHITE ZOMBIE and even CANDYMAN create discussion and open the mindset to what truly is folk horror film. While many will disagree, the discussion to what truly defines genre is exactly why we need documentaries like this. This chapter is probably the most learned yet unfamiliar section of the film in which discussion evolves from puritan travellers to the idea of southern horror that morphs into other genres that may not be subject to the viewers intentions. Religion and Christianity are at the centre of much folk horror so the discussion between race becomes inevitably intwined but not in the way it perhaps would feel natural. A film like HIS HOUSE or GET OUT share more in common with the theory of folk horror with outsiders being felt unwelcome and unnatural to the lands around them whereas the films discussed are more intwined with individuals who are the spectral/supernatural.

5. All the haunts be ours: Folk Horror Around The World

Pagan villagers, Spiritual and colonialism that has oppressed worldwide nations. The element of change is important and adaptation from an outsider, or in some instances, an insider to change around them whether that be through real manifestations of societal change or spiritual. This transcends the British impression

Exploring Mexico and the mythology of LA LLORONA, Australian, CELIA being a central talking point, and expanding on another trilogy of films from Brazil. NOITES DE LEMANJA, LOVE FROM MOTHER ONLY and AS FILHAS DO FAGO that are must sees for all horror fans.

There's an eye opening exploration of German cinema and the history of the term "Das volke" which has reached multiple levels of iteration, a term that can also expand to the social enigma that saw support for the Nazi party, a cultural significance as to why folk horror is so sensationally terrifying.

As the documentary travels further around the world, traversing and blurring genre lines but remaining faithfully adhering to what justifies the label of folk horror. European cinema shares the likes of the Italian IL DEMONIO, and Russia's DARK WATERS, VIY showing the shadows forgotten by cultural change over years.

Ingmar Bergman's HOUR OF THE WOLF, NOVEMBER and THE JUNIPER TREE feature harrowing scenes that don't root the film in folk horror staples but fall alongside them as companions sharing themes and no compendium would be complete without mentioning WITCHHAMMER, the Czech horror that is a sibling to WITHCFINDER GENERAL if not more horrific.

Reaching over to Japan, KAKASHI, ONIBABA and 100 MONSTERS show another side to what it is to define folk horror. Where cultures differ but there is still a strange familiarity to be enamoured rooting in folk history more about people being outside to the spirit of ancestors and nature.

Suggestion of culture clash whereas across the world it's more about the escapism away from the culture and more in line with magic and manifestations of spirits.

Divulging into vampiric and werewolf and ghost cats.

6. Folk Horror Revival

Running through the recent resurgence of folk horror, it wouldn't be fair to close off WOODLANDS without mentioning more recent staples such as WAKE WOOD, MIDSOMMAR, FOR THOSE IN PERIL, BE OUR SELVES, BORDER and ERRAMENTARI as much as KILL LIST and Alice Lowe's short, SOLITUDO.

Living in an urban world and yet what happens in the small pockets of countryside are shrouded in darkness and hidden from view.

Delving into eco-horror but echoes of the 70s when the world was in a hopeless place, little hope and now we are in a time that mirrors the cultural disassociation with how the world is run.

Overall, WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED is a learning curve of what it is to define folk horror and does so by not focusing on what we know, but on what is natural. Despite language, social and political climates, the world has horror and the influences around those always find a way on film. Wonderfully pieced together and interjected with poetry that feels eerie yet hauntingly majestic when talking about death and alienation. Perhaps the alien nature of folk horror and isolation the antagonists may perceive, is not so fictional after all. This is a film as much about discovery as it is about rooting oneself into a genre they favour and for that, there is a lot to be found here.

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