Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Review – Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror

Always a staple in the horror genre and, really, a common thread through all of humanity, folk horror is basking in a bit of a moment right now. The Witch, Midsommar, The Ritual, Apostle, The Wailing, (this list could go on forever) are all films that are utilizing centuries old tales and superstitions to craft modern day horror films and, in general, it seems as though folk horror is really speaking to movie viewers as a whole lately. What better time for Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror to be available? Currently screening at Fantasia Festival 2021, this documentary on folk horror is an amazing deep dive into the subject.

The feature film debut of Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women), Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is an exhaustive look at the subject of folk horror. With over 200 films discussed and a runtime of 192 minutes, Janisse has delivered a truly impressive documentary about a subject that is sorely lacking this kind of attention. Opening the documentary with The Unholy Trinity (Witchfinder General, The Blood on Satans Claw, The Wicker Man) and then expanding out to a myriad of other cultures, Janisse presents an easily digestible history of folklore from around the globe by interviewing some notable filmmakers in the genre, and more importantly, scholars and academics of the subject. It’s this mix of scholars and filmmakers who turned their love of folk horror into now beloved films that makes Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched feel so special. Folk horror is clearly not just a passing fancy for Janisse or a quick grab at what is currently in vogue for cinema fans: this is an astounding achievement of both world and film history.

Separated into chapters, this documentary could be enjoyed as a miniseries instead of a three hour film and that could, possibly, suit it even better. Janisse presents a dizzying amount of information with film clips that run the gamut from very well recognized to incredibly obscure. Being able to view this while scholars and filmmakers speak about the subject is like taking a warp speed college course and it’s amazing.

From small things like Robert Eggers use of the hare in The Witch to an exploration of why the term “Indian burial ground” is reductive at best and insensitive and demeaning at worst, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a truly engrossing history lesson that, in my opinion, should be mandatory viewing.

Played as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival

Lisa Fremont

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