A wondrous deep dive into all things folk horror, Kier-La Janisse’s Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched takes us on a marathon three hour plus journey, one that is full to the brim with information, yet you are never bored due to some excellent pacing. An absolute must-watch.
Folk horror is a riveting genre that keeps on reinventing itself and has yet to be properly dissected. Starting with the “unholy trilogy” – WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968), BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1971), and THE WICKER MAN (1973) – then travelling to all continents and beyond, finally ending up in our era with Ari Aster and co., no stones are left unturned.
The extensiveness of Janisse’s work here is that even the most enlightened fan of the genre will find new films to add to their lists. Certainly, that has been the case with our list! We have an abundance of interviewees; notes informed that there are over 200 films mentioned with 50 people interviewed, and somehow Janisse was able to work this into just three hours. Now three hours may be a lot for some. Still, anyone who has experienced the utterly brilliant In Search of Darkness documentaries about horror in the ’80s will know that three hours is a mere drop in the documentary run time ocean.
By pacing the film as well as they do here, we can digest the information quite easily as they make their point and move on. The insights from all of those participants are quite unlike anything you will have experienced in a documentary. In fact, at times, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched feels as if we are watching a special feature from a Blu-Ray as it is so rare that we would get such a historical background into the influences of the genre. This academic approach is presented so well; you could be forgiven for thinking that we were just going to get a breakdown of the films.
With the focus on the historical influences of the directors and the authors, they could seep their form of folk horror into our consciousness. An example of this is the interesting look at folk horror hitting the Mid-West with an anecdote about how the openness of the land brings its issues to mind, and somehow. From here, we are directed from films such as Children of the Corn to Pumpkinhead. All of which we normally would just class as a horror film, but thanks to these breakdowns and insights, you realise how much they are folk-horror, and from there, we brilliantly connect those to Deliverance, and it works so seamlessly that you barely notice. Just tremendous work all around to keep the audience compelled this long, to the point that if you didn’t check the time, you could easily be two hours in without noticing. This is the type of documentary you want, one that you can just lose yourself in with barely a complaint.
As Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched details so well, the times influenced what we saw on the screen almost as much as what has happened in previous decades or centuries. This genre continually evolves itself to be pertinent to the subsequent emotions and feelings of that time in that specific area. British folk horror feels so different from colonial folk or even folk horror that grew in the United States. Horror has always been intrinsically linked with the emotions of the time, and it appears thanks to this documentary, folk horror spreads its roots into more films than you could imagine.
A word needs to go out to our director and her two editors, Winnie Cheung and Benjamin Shearn, who do something special here. For a documentary as heavy in the information here, the fear of lulls coming forth is almost expected. Yet even with its languid pace at times, you are never bored, and equally, with a documentary with so much information, it could easily get bogged down and have the audience feeling overawed. That doesn’t happen here, and for the three, it Is quite the accomplishment.
Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a loving and entertaining documentary that, even if you are not a fan of horror films, you will find something to love about it. An astonishingly great piece that takes a more academic approach but keeps you as engaged as possible. We are left with a passionate love letter to a sub-genre that has a far more significant influence on horror and cinema than we could ever imagine. Unmissable.
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