Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021)

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (2021)

Director: Kier-La Janisse

WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED explores the folk horror phenomenon from its beginnings in a trilogy of films – Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968), Piers Haggard’s Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) – through its proliferation on British television in the 1970s and its culturally specific manifestations in American, Asian, Australian and European horror, to the genre’s revival over the last decade.  – IMDB

Running at over 3 hours, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a documentary that talks about the history of folk horror in an extensive format. The documentary breaks down into six chapters going through about 200 films that contribute to the folk horror genre from its start as what is known as the unholy trinity in British folk horror to American folk horror to folk horror around the world concluding with a look at the future of folk horror. In reality, folk horror feels very much like an unexplored territory. With film offerings that possibly aren’t vey often however this documentary brings to light is the diversity of the subject on hand much like how it concludes with specifying that its possibly not so much a horror subgenre but more of a mode revolving around certain key points whether in history regarding society, beliefs and the shift from old to new creating resistance to change.

For someone like me that is still very much learning about the horror genre especially when it comes to the horror films of the 60s to 80s, this film features a lot of unexplored territory. The folk horror genre while having some interesting offerings in the past few years (and some of them even being presented at past Fantasia Film Festival), it is still one that has the impression of having not such a long history that could be worthy of 3 hours at first, however as the subject as discussed more and the history starts being explored through over 50 interviewees throughout the documentary and as it expands from different countries and how it differs in approach, the documentary doesn’t lose its appeal at all. In fact, its presented in an intriguing and educational way presenting not only an extensive list of movies to better dive into the subject but also even showing many books that also have covered this subject.

As much as the documentary focuses on the past, its main takeaway is that folk horror isn’t quite as expected that its based on folklore but rather that its a much wider look at the society and beliefs. It links itself to resistance to change through society whether its in history when its about a shift in belief with the church facing modernization of society or the Indigenous people or other populations towards white settlers in their lands or even how the symbol of witchcraft and the witch is actually a bigger look at fear of society towards women in power, which is actually a rather surprising discovery overall. Of course, as it expands around the world, the folklore is based much more on more spiritual figures and their own countries issues and beliefs. What makes folk horror stand out is the basic conclusion that this style of film and the stories it tells is very much rooted in a pessimism in society much like how in recent years, there is a slight rise of folk horror being created contributing a lot to how history is cycling through its own dark times yet again.

Overall, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a very thorough look at the history of folk horror. There is a great amount of information here whether its about its movies spanning many countries but also a lot of interesting point of views about the subject. Folk horror is a fascinating subject whether its considered as a subgenre, a mode or simply a film style or storytelling method. It embodies so many different elements in films whether its witchcraft, Indigenous people, folklore, history, religion, society, feminism, good and evil, psychogeography and environment etc. Its no wonder that the documentary needs over 3 hours to cover all the material. It might be lengthy but it only gets more interesting as folk horror is explored further into each chapter. The execution and breakdown is done incredibly well. Definitely worth a watch!