“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost
There is something inherently terrifying to me about horror films set in the woods. This may seem strange to those who know me since I live in a state that is known for its bountiful forests. Hell, as I look out my window while typing this, I see an endless horizon of treetops the branches poking and prodding the sky.
I’m not sure if it’s the inability to see around oneself without obstruction or if it’s hearing the sound of nature’s animals but rarely seeing them that sets me on edge. What I do know is that forests are exceptional at hiding things from those they don’t wish to see. That inability to know one’s surroundings, as well as what inhabits them, is haunting. What lurks around that thicket? What’s waiting underneath that pile of leaves? What waits in amidst the branches overhead, biding its time before it strikes?
These questions, and more, always linger in my mind whenever I watch a horror film set in a forest. It’s why they are usually so effective at haunting me for days on end. And with David Bruckner’s terrifying looking The Ritual available now on Netflix, I wanted to revisit some films that I believe use the woods to extraordinary effect. Having seen The Ritual, I can give you my personal guarantee that Bruckner effectively uses the setting of a Scandinavian forest to his full advantage, turning what should be a picturesque landscape of tranquility and beauty into a phantasmagoria of haunting visions that make every square inch of foliage appear threatening.
Let me know what you think in the comments below, especially if I missed something!
Neil Marshall’s debut feature-length film not only reinvigorated the werewolf genre, it’s remained an enduring title that receives well-deserved love from the horror community.
Following a group of soldiers on a training mission in the Scottish Highlands who are attacked by a group of werewolves, Dog Soldiers features a fantastic cast including Sean Pertwee and Liam Cunningham. It makes wonderful use of its setting, allowing the creatures to lurk in the trees before striking with deadly force.
Sam Raimi’s classic cult horror film sends a group of college students to a secluded cabin where a recording of a demonic incantation raises evil forces that possess and pick them off one at a time. Creating a horror film that is remembered for decades after its release is no easy feat but creating a franchise that is beloved through an entire community and is still going to this day? Kudos, ladies and gentlemen. Kudos all around!
Tucker & Dale vs Evil
Perhaps one of the most entertaining horror comedies to ever be released, Tucker & Dale Vs Evil is not just a fantastic film, it’s a magnificent spoof on the “inbred hostile redneck” subgenre, which primarily takes place in the woods. Poking fun at Deliverance, Wrong Turn, The Hills Have Eyes, and the like, the film could never have worked had it not been set in the stereotypical “cabin in the woods”. Many films have tried to capture the same magic and heart that Tucker & Dale possesses but very few have come even remotely close.
The Cabin in the Woods
Coming off one of the greatest spoofs of the “cabin in the wood” trope to one of the most clever satirical commentaries on horror, The Cabin in the Woods was, and still is, a fantastic horror film that faces its tropes, welcomes them with open arms, and then finds ways to make them feel fresh again. Now if only we can hear what’s going on with that potential sequel…
The most recent entry on this list, A24’s The Witch was critically lauded and remains one of the most fascinating theatrical experiences I’ve had in a long time. Utilizing brilliant sound design, haunting music, and a forest that loomed over a dysfunctional family like some hungered beast waiting to strike, The Witch has haunted countless viewers while remaining one of the most discussed horror films in the past couple of years. Rightfully so, I might add. It’ll be very interesting to see how The Witch influences horror to come.
Friday the 13th
Can I really talk about influential horror movies that take place in the woods without bringing up the Friday the 13th franchise? Even Jason X, which took place in freaking space, brought it back to Camp Crystal Lake and made use of the trees!
Now, some could argue that a campground isn’t the same as being caught up in the woods or even that it’s different from a standard “cabin in the woods” scenario. To that I say bollocks! They’re miles from help and the forest is oppressively bearing down upon them at pretty much every turn. The killer can be lurking behind any tree, coming at you from any direction… Your campground isn’t safe if it’s surrounded!
The Blair Witch Project
This is it. This may very well be the most influential horror movie to take place in the woods. Obviously one could make the argument that Cannibal Holocaust was the reason that The Blair Witch Project even exists but I believe that Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s film did more for horror in the long run, not just as what many believe to be the foundation for modern day found footage but also because of its brilliant marketing campaign. The impact of The Blair Witch Project is still being felt to this day and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.
The Ritual stars Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, and Sam Troughton. It is based on Adam Nevell’s horror novel of the same name.
Reuniting after the tragic death of their best mate, four old friends from university set out to hike through the Scandinavian wilderness. But a wrong turn leads them into the dark and mysterious forests of Norse legend, where an ancient evil still exists and stalks them at every turn.