It becomes obvious real fast with Woodlands that you're in more than capable hands with director Janisse (who's previously written several cult horror film books and produced several horror documentaries) tackling this subject; indeed it becomes obvious real fast that you're going to need a pen, a notebook, and the pause button on your remote control, because this movie is gonna school you from kindergarten on up to the black mass rituals of a Masters Degree in Demonology. Speaking to fifty-some subjects (including filmmakers like Robert Eggers and Alice Lowe, two of my faves) and smashing through over two hundred films in its admittedly hefty runtime, this beast is a feast, one I plan on returning to time and time and time again.
As a little tease almost Woodlands starts off exactly where you expect it to, with the late-60s threesome everybody thinks of when they think of Folk Horror -- Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw, and The Wicker Man -- and you smugly think to yourself, "Oh this is gonna be one of those docs, those ones about Horror Films that show me all of my favorite clips and package it up easy and neat, maybe a surprise here and there, but I know where this is going." You fool! You do not! Before I knew it this doc was making me feel like the dullest horror fan in the world, in the best of ways.
Because, and I'm sure my fellow film nerds can relate, sometimes it feels like we might have stamped out the movie world's surprises. I've spent thirty-some-years scouring the horror genre for whatever I can put in my eyes, and you think, sometimes, you've maybe seen it all. Or what there is worth seeing, anyway. And then a mad genius savant like Janisse comes along, cackles at your hubris, and dumps in front of you hundreds of titles you've never even heard of. I spent half this doc with my jaw agape, at the deluge of information it was offering up. And not at all in a boring, professorial fashion -- Woodlands is a hoot to watch, full of deeply obscure weirdness and the sort of joy only a true fan can conjure. What a dark, beautiful blessing. Sweet magicks does this thing rule!
Folk Horror is now streaming as part of SXSW 2021!