NOTE: Here is my review from Soda & Telepaths that was posted back on August 17, 2021
Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched tells the long and fascinating history of Folk Horror in cinema. From the classics like The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General to more modern takes like Midsommar, the film examines the long and curious history of this subgenre of horror… and then goes further, asking how one might define it, if it even is a genre, pointing out how different cultures will create different kinds of folk horror. The longer the film goes on, the more it pushes at the boundaries of the term “folk horror” and sees just what that means in various times and locations, creating one of the most fascinating horror documentaries in recent years.
Told mostly through a series of talking-head interviews with experts and filmmakers, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is the kind of horror documentary that should be shown as part of any film class that wants to talk about horror, it’s a masterclass in how you explore a genre of film as a documentary. It starts off at the fundamentals, the titles and ideas we all think of when you hear the term folk horror, but the longer it goes on the more niche it gets, almost like the filmmakers are saying “Hey, if you sat here for two hours then you’re ready for the obscure stuff” and oh boy do they deliver on that.
Other documentaries on film should take notes because, in three hours, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched manages to give a crash course in the long history of the genre in a way that’s accessible to just about anyone. You don’t need to be a film scholar or even know much about the genre itself to get something out of this – if anything this would be a great place for someone to start if they wanted to know a little more about the horror genre in general.
Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched treats its subject matter seriously, not only touching on the films but exploring folk horror books and authors and even folklore itself. It also points out the connections some of these movies have to politics of the day and historical events that people used as a jumping point to make some of these films. It could’ve just been a simple shopping list of classic folk horror films and been perfectly acceptable but they take the time to ensure that there’s a ton of relevant context as well as the people gushing about some horror films they enjoy.
There’s a genuine brilliance to Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched in starting with what we all know to be folk horror (Wicker Man, Midsommar, etc) and interrogating British and American folk horror as a starter before making a trip around the world, touching on what it means to be an Australian folk horror or Japanese folk horror or just folk horror in a number of other countries. It talks about what links all these kinds of folk horror films and what makes them unique, broadening the audience’s understanding of the term and also, hopefully, encouraging them to look into films from outside their country’s borders.
Weirdly, at three hours Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched feels like it could’ve gone longer or at the very least, I would’ve gleefully watched a longer version of this movie. While the three-hour runtime does allow them to go through a lot of the history, it feels like there’s more there and what is learned is so fascinating that you end up wanting more… although, please note that this is from someone whose favourite horror documentaries are the In Search Of Darkness films, a two-film series that goes for roughly 9 hours total, and Crystal Lake Memories, which lasts almost 7 so it could just be that I prefer very long horror documentaries.
Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a new standard-bearer for documentaries about film. It’s easy to enjoy, wonderfully detailed, cleverly plotted out and goes so deep into the genre that it encourages the audience to keep track of every film named so they can look it up later. It’s the kind of film that should hopefully encourage other people to make documentaries about their favourite subgenres of film, a truly fascinating lesson in the history of a subgenre that deserves a lot more respect.