Folk horror is a genre currently having its day in the sunlight. While it was arguably at its apex with 1973’s cult classic The Wicker Man, like the lingering sense of dread that these films leave behind, the genre has never truly gone away. In 1984, Fritz Keirsch’s interpretation of Stephen King’s short story The Children of the Corn was absolutely a wicked step-kid of that earlier film while Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project was its 1990’s sinister sibling. Ben Wheatley’s films have kept folk horror’s evil heart beating through the 2000’s, and now Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar have firmly staked their unique claim on today. However there is another contemporary descendant that is even more fiercely loyal to the earlier forebears.
When Raine McCormack’s indie horror The Village in the Woods opens, we see a sepia hued close-up of a sobbing young woman in garish, red, comically overdone lipstick sobbing inconsolably. The screen goes black as her sobs become screams. This sets the tone for this slow-burning and suspenseful thriller, channeling Polanski in its use of dread and discomfort.
The film takes us back to just a day or so earlier and we see a moving vehicle’s headlights cutting the blackness of a stark and lonely rural road in the dead of night. Nikki, the female lead, played by Beth Park (Killing All The Flies) appears quite a bit more composed as she travels into the English countryside with her beau Jason, played by newcomer Robert Vernon. They run out of gas in the mist-shrouded woods and as they find they have no cell signal, they decide to spend the night in the car as animals shriek and cry out in the distance. This is just the first in a series of bad decisions that this unfortunate couple makes. After a cold and uncomfortable sleepover, we learn that the couple’s destination is an old inn which they are attempting to fraudulently claim as their own, based on their having a key and an heirloom ring, both of which we can assume belonged to the building’s rightful heir.
The Village in the Woods is not willing to easily give up its secrets. The film uses this to its advantage as that sense of weird mystery goes hand-in-hand with the rising apprehension of each creepy and claustrophobic scene. We can make vague generalizations in regards to the kindly and distinguished older gentleman, played by Richard Hope (Poldark) who appears to want to take the new couple under his wing. Interesting that the man in a decade’s old picture on the wall looks just like him… Curiosity surrounds the lovely but clearly eccentric older woman, played by Therese Bradley (Peaky Blinders) who from the start very much seems to want to take Jason into her bed. The sparse cast is rounded out by another weird and creepy couple (played by Rebecca Johnson and Timothy Harker) as well as a strange old man (played by Sidney Kean) who has ominous dreams and gives sinister warnings to our criminal couple.
If the cast is sparse, the settings are even more confined, taking place within the inn, its outbuildings, and a small portion of the woods. The inn itself is almost its own character as the actors are constantly having to push past each other in its narrow rooms and hallways. These cramped quarters lend additional oppressive weight to the slow pacing of the film. Under another director’s eye, this place may have appeared quaint and cozy but in McCormack’s vision, it is a little slice of hell on earth.
This film is not without its flaws, such as in Vernon’s performance sometimes coming across as strangely flat and occasionally, the slow-burn pace feels a little too slow, with some scenes drawn out and awkward. However, other perceived foibles seem instead to be homages to the special effects of the 1970’s. In a scene in which Hope’s character sets fire to a large woodpile, a quick cut takes it from an old fashioned lighter flame to a roaring inferno in a second. For some reason, this made me think of effects in old shows like Dark Shadows or the early days of Doctor Who and just added to the nostalgic feel of McCormack’s film.
In the end, The Village in the Woods is truly a film that was made with a clear appreciation of and reverence for the standards of the genre. Raine McCormack is clearly a dedicated fan and his work is undoubtedly an offspring of the dark and devilish folk horror films that have come before it.
The Village in the Woods is produced by Brake3 production company and it will be released by Lightbulb Film Distribution. It will be heading to On Demand and download platforms on October 14th. Will you be checking it out? Join the conversation in the Nightmare on Film Street Community on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!
— The Village in the Woods (@village_movie) September 5, 2019