Rootwood (2020)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the woods . . .

Just down the road from Burkittsville, on the outskirts of the New Jersey Pine Barrons, two college students—grungy fanboy William and the purple-haired, retro-hippie geek girl Jessica—host “The Spooky Hour,” a podcast about paranormal phenomena and urban legends. One of their fans is Laura Benott, a Hollywood film producer who thinks they’re perfect for her pet project: a documentary about the curse of The Wooden Devil, a mysterious creature who haunts the Rootwood Forest on the outskirts of Los Angeles—and is responsible for the disappearances of dozens of campers and curiosity seekers.

And our Shaggy and Thelma see dollar signs and fame. So you know what that means: buy extra Scooby Snacks, call Daphne (in this context: the Kardashian- fashionista, Erin), and load in The Mystery Machine (in this context: a film equipment-stocked camper). We’re going to hunt for some mythical, legendary witches and devils of The Blair Witch Project (1999) and The Last Broadcast (1998) variety. (And don’t come a knockin’ for any ghouls from The Evil Dead, not in these woods.)

So who is our Satanic agent of Pan in this Blair Witch-inspired, found footage-cum-mockumentary hybrid tucked inside a traditional narrative film: a forest ranger who pledged his soul to protect the woods—and became The Wooden Devil. (All expositional, natch.)

As is the case with most found footage romps and mock-documentary chronicles, there’s a lengthy (30 minute) set up—much of it in handheld or ear-perched POV shots—of “character development” until we get to the first sense of the “horror” of The Wooden Devil: a paint-peeled image of a devil on a remote, graffiti-scrawled water tank and a blood-stained noose found in the knothole of a tree. Eventually, Erin starts ranting about seeing some “bat creature thing” off camera and Will and Jess—stumbling around in the dark with POV cameras rolling—find the ubiquitous stone circle with a symbol made of twigs at its center. And that damned noose keeps showing up in the most unlikely places.

Rootwood is a film that takes its time; it rolls out like an old, low-budget Drive-In horror film of the ‘60s and ‘70s (watch for twisty ending: for all is not as it seems). This is a film that dispatches with the CGI-painted shock-scares of today’s modern horror and goes for the well-shot in-camera effects (courtesy of lush cinematography from Thomas Rist, he of the German-language documentary Let It Bleed: 40 Years of the Rolling Stones) with everything just on the peripheral, in the shadows. In today’s big-budget, major-studio horror landscape, it’s a nice change of pace to see filmmakers take the mystery-suspense route. The well-scored music and crisp sound effects by Klaus Pfreundner and Tim Heinrich, respectively, add to the slow-building foreboding.

Director Marcel Walz received recognition for previous project: a 2016 re-imagining of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s 1963 cult classic, Blood Feast. Screenwriter Mario von Czapiewski made his debut with the 2012 German-produced/language feature Cannibal Diner. Felissa Rose (Laura Benott, the film producer) got her start in the business in her early teens as “Angela” in 80s cult favorite, Sleepaway Camp. And you horror hounds have seen scream queen Elissa Dowling (Jennifer) around on several low-budget films of the SyFy Channel variety; we previously reviewed her 2015 film, We Are Still Here.

To say Rose and Dowling are the hardest working ladies in show business is an understatement: Rose has a mindboggling 30 films in various states of production; Dowling’s working on 17 films of her own. Sara French (Erin the fashionista), in thirteen short years, has already appeared in 75 low-budget direct-to-DVD films. Professional ex-hockey player Tyler Gallant is relatively new to the acting game and shows a lot of promise in front of the camera; I can see him appearing on episodes of two of my favorite TV series: Blue Bloods and Law and Order: SVU, sometime soon.

On a release rollout since 2018, Rootwood will be available on demand and DVD in the U.S on April 7 from High Octane Pictures. You can learn more at the film’s official Facebook page and High Octane’s catalog at their Facebook page. Some of the High Octane catalog we recently reviewed at B&S About Movies includes The Alpha Test, American Hunt, A Wakefield Project, and Jurassic Thunder.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Disclaimer: This movie was sent to us by its PR department. As always: you know that has nothing to do with our feelings on the movie.

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