Review: ‘Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched’ is a fascinating look at the history of folk horror

Folk Horror has a storied history in cinema, creating some of the most unsettling imagery and tapping into some of our most visceral latent fears. Whether you’re watching a classic like The Wicker Man or The Blood on Satan’s Claw or something more modern like Midsommar to The Witch, the stories harken back to times gone by and often posit that perhaps they aren’t as “gone by” as we think –or hope– they are.

Such an important history has to have an important telling, and that’s exactly what director Kier-La Janisse has created with Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror.

If you have any interest at all in the history of horror, or film, or pop culture, then Woodlands Dark is going to be a must-watch for you. It takes a broad look at this genre, and in its 3+ hour runtime, manages to touch on just about every instance of folk horror you could possibly think of.

That being said, I am sure that if you don’t have that interest, then the breadth of the survey and the length of the film might be off-putting, but if that’s the case, then I’m not sure what to tell you.

One could argue that the breadth of the film’s coverage is a problem in itself. In seeking to survey and document as much as possible, director Keir-La Janisse may have missed some opportunities to go deep on a particular film or film area. However, I would argue that it isn’t that kind of documentary and isn’t trying to be.

As it stands, Woodlands Dark is an excellent piece of pop culture criticism. It surveys the folk horror genre almost entirely, from British folk horror in which the old ways come back to haunt us, or new world folk horror where the lingering effects of colonialism or the hauntings of the past come back to reap their vengeance, to Asian folk horror where demons are commonplace. Sure, it’s 193 minutes long, but in that time, it manages to remain interesting and probably give you more than a few titles to add to your watch list.

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror is playing for Canadian audiences as part of the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival through August 25th, 2021.


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