This documentary is exhaustive to say the least. For some (*raises hand*), that’s going to be a huge selling point; for others it’s going to be a major turn off. (There’s a fine line between exhaustive and exhausting for some folks.) Expansive in every way, Woodlands Dark attempts to span the globe and deliver a comprehensive view of folk horror in different countries and regions and how it evolved in each. It’s a significant undertaking.
The film touches down in Europe, the UK, America, Asia, South America, Australia, Africa, the former Eastern Block, and anywhere this topic pops up. Which is basically everywhere there are movies, fiction, and a collective storytelling tradition. It examines the various factors—the paranoias, fears, social conditions, and contexts—that gave rise folk horror. And there are many. From the lingering legacy of colonialism, fear of the unknown in nature, uncertain relationships with new technology, and more, as so many art forms are, this reflects a culture’s psyche, history, horrors and traumas, and broader consciousness.
Fascinating as the topic is, Woodlands Dark does get a bit dry and academic. (Again, this will be a deal breaker for some but not others.) For the most part, the film is a series of talking heads; experts in the fields of film, literature, and cultural history. This is intercut with extensive footage from the movies discussed. Janisse does insert a few gorgeous animated asides here and there, collages created by filmmaker Guy Maddin (Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary), and the score from Jim Williams (Raw, Possessor) is lovely and haunting. But that only goes so far. Fortunately, the film is episodic in nature, structured in chapters, so if you can’t devote three full hours in a go, it’s easy enough to consume piecemeal.
It sounds like I’m bagging on this movie, but I do truly enjoy it, even if I came away with a huge list of movies to track down. If nothing else, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is an impressive feat, even if it does occasionally watch like a textbook come to life. Mostly for hardcore horror fans or those with an academic interest in a relatively esoteric cinematic subgenre, this is a compelling story that never plays overlong or excessive. It’s just very, very, incredibly thorough. [Grade: A]