The Blair Witch is in hiding… Sasquatch is fast-asleep... Hansel and Gretel are home, and enrolled in intensive psychiatric therapy…
Given all of the above, you probably thought it was safe to go back into the woods. But Marcel Walz has unearthed a new reason to fear the wilderness, and his latest film Rootwood proves that there’s still plenty to be explored in the modern creature feature.
Walz is a director on the rise. His recent movie Blind has consistently received favorable reviews in its festival circuit (see my review here), and his name is becoming increasingly recognizable to horror buffs searching for something unique outside of Big Budget Hollywood.
I was recently fortunate enough to see an early cut of Rootwood, which follows a trio of obscure horror podcasters as they investigate a “cursed” forest which has claimed several explorers. The main duo, William and Jessica, are given this task by a wealthy client (Felissa Rose of Sleepaway Camp) who asks them to film their journey for a documentary…but while their eyes are only on the potential payout, there are plenty of malevolent forces watching them from the shadows.
One of Walz’s greatest gifts is his talent for creating compelling atmosphere. This worked perfectly with Blind, lending itself to the tension of a masked stalker pursuing an ex-superstar in her Beverly Hills home. Given a much larger setting to play around with in Rootwood, Walz took to filming Mario von Czapiewski’s screenplay with an obvious enthusiasm for expanding his craft. We’re treated with quite a few manners of frightening atmospheres, ranging from the claustrophobic confines of an RV to the seemingly endless expanse of woodland. A few moments in the film reminded me of The Blair Witch Project, an homage which works rather well without being too overt.
A few artistic choices were a little jarring to me as a viewer, such as the abrupt changes to shaky “found footage” shots, but I understand how they fit into the movie as a whole.
Rootwood stars Elissa Dowling (We Are Still Here), as well as Blind alumni Sarah French and Tyler Gallant. The storyline is enough to grab a viewer’s attention, but it’s really the perfect casting that holds everything together for the entire ninety minutes. Each character also had a surprising amount of humor, which made them more relatable and compelling to watch.
Gallant’s character, William, is the most pragmatic of the bunch, almost to a fault, and he’s the most willing to ignore the possibility of danger in favor of getting some worthwhile footage. To William, this assignment is the big break he’s been waiting for and an opportunity to demonstrate his value. He and Jessica have a best friend chemistry, but it’s clear from the get-go that his main concern at all times is their project. Jessica, against William’s better wishes, insists on bringing along her ditsy-but-well-meaning Insta-Photographer friend Erin. Erin is the sort of energetic and high-maintenance hot girl that can be seen as unbearable to someone on a mission, and she’s treated as a nuisance at various times in the movie, particularly when she frantically claims to have seen a creature lurking in the woods outside their RV.
While the tension within the group would’ve benefitted from a longer script, the stakes are increasingly evident within the second act of the film, which is really all that matters in terms of keeping my attention.
Rather than meanderingly talk about all the various high points of Rootwood, I need to tell you straight up that the part of the movie that got me the most excited was the finale, and there’s not a lot I can say about it without getting into spoiler territory. After all, writers have had their fingers cut off for far less. I was especially glad to see Felissa Rose be given a character she could unleash her boundless energy upon, and it was refreshing to see a “cursed woods” movie that doesn’t solely rely on dumbass character wandering around and talking about how lost they are while a bad CGI monster occasionally appears. On the contrary, the creature effects in Rootwood are brilliant and utilized to their maximum effect. Even if the story isn’t quite your thing, I think you’ll appreciate the well-crafted aesthetics throughout Rootwood.
Like Blind, Walz’s Rootwood is a movie worth checking out if you’re craving something creepy and inspired. Just be prepared to sleep with your flashlight on the next time you go camping in the woods.