Not every film can be a genre-defining masterpiece. For every film that breaks new ground or deepens the subject matter, there are always films that slip through the cracks. Obviously, some are missteps. Poor execution or a half-cooked concept can kill a movie as easily as critical indifference or being booked against a larger, more mainstream friendly piece. But amidst the relative noise of our media landscape, some just seem to get lost in the shadows. Be they hidden gems or diamonds in the rough, sometimes a great example has to be accidentally discovered.
Cinemaphiles have a number of options available these days. Affordable access to streaming platforms like Netflix or Shudder has granted a greater access to the “deep cuts” of the horror world. The three films being discussed today are fantastic examples of this scenario. In a deviation from previous form, these films will not be receiving a deeper analysis, merely an overview and maybe a touch of the praise they so rightly deserve.
The noteworthy feature of these three films is that they do not totally adhere to the Folk Horror formula. They share at least a tangential connection to the genre, but might be considered to have a more crossover appeal. If someone might not find The Witch or Witchfinder General accessible, these three offer an interesting in-road to Folk Horror. As well, they present a new sort of grist in the mill. Not to unnecessarily mix metaphors, but they are like the flavors of the countryside finding their way into a more city-influenced palate. (Links are included in this article so readers can easily access these films!)
Noroi: The Curse
Dir. Shiraishi Koji
Every genre that was once groundbreaking becomes overdone. Fans of horror in the last two decades will no doubt the moment when J-Horror (Japanese Horror, for the uninitiated) broke onto the scene. And there is always a group who will groan at the mention of Found Footage movies. For every example like Ju-On: The Grudge or Spanish Found Footage masterpiece (REC) there are a million bad ripoffs, spinoffs, or misfires. But once in awhile a film blends together multiple elements that end up stronger than expected. Shiraishi Koji’s Noroi: The Curse is a perfect example of this in action.
The Plot: Kobayashi Masafumi is a successful, well-regarded documentarian dealing with the paranormal. Kobayashi has embarked on a new effort, bringing together mysterious disappearances, psychics, and a village with a dark secret. Nearing the end of filming his most recent effort, however, his home burns to the ground, his wife is found dead in the rubble, and our protagonist has gone missing.
The pretense of the film, of course, is that the viewer is seeing this final documentary. And as far as Found Footage is concerned, this J-Horror joint is an absolute masterclass in slow-burning tension and plot threads neatly entwining. The elements of Folk Horror are the icing on the cake. Japanese religion and mythology is an area remarkably unexplored in cinema outside the country. As well, the film makes use of less well-known Japanese mainstays (such as primetime variety shows) to explore and tie together the chills. It might be tempting to write off these elements as inaccessible for Western audiences, but suspend your Judgement. Noroi: The Curse is simultaneously cerebral and spine chilling. Horror is a land without borders, after all. Ghosts, monsters, forbidden rituals, and mysterious deaths are the stuff of nightmares irrespective of culture.
This Shudder Exclusive might be sometimes lost in their ever expanding library of lesser-known films, but for subscribers it is an excellent addition. Fans of Ringu or Visitor Q will not be disappointed!
Dir. Gareth Evans
Apostle is an example of what happens when a writer or director breaks away from their best-known style and proves their versatility. Perhaps best known for The Raid series of action flicks, Gareth Evans’ Apostle is brutal but engrossing.
A woman is kidnapped by a cult on a remote Welsh island in 1905. Her brother goes undercover in an attempt to bring her home. Of course, not everything is what it seems with the cult, and soon he finds himself struggling for his own survival. This setup might feel perhaps a bit too close a film like The Wicker Man, but Evans’ brings an entirely modern (and thoroughly gore-soaked) approach to Folk Horror. The isolation of the setting, as well as the political and religious volatility of the era, add deeply to the atmosphere of dread. Dan Stevens portrayal of our protagonist, Thomas Richardson, is positively gripping, and Michael Sheen as Malcolm Howe, the cult’s leader, make the film worth seeing on it’s own.
But it wouldn’t be a horror film without moments of absolutely gut-churning ugliness, and as such, Apostle does not disappoint. Evans is, after all, an action director, and he infuses the moments of violence and terror with a highly kinetic, but unflinching style. You never once lose the actors in a blur of camera work. Nothing is unnecessarily obscured to save on production costs. Instead, Evans lingers on the moments so that the shock actually registers. These elements bring a remarkably mainstream appeal to a subject matter (period dramas and, y’know, Folk Horror) that can be alienating to potential viewers. Apostle delivers, and delivers big.
Dir. Rainer Sarnet
Is there an intersection where Experimental Film and Folk Horror can exist? The Estonian production November aims to find out, and frankly delivers. Perhaps the most abstract of the films covered in this series, November is not the most direct or linear story, but for the more adventurous filmgoer, it can provide an utterly unique experience.
Where to begin discussing the plot of a movie like November? Any attempt will seem arbitrary, but it’s that kind of movie. In an unnamed 19th century Estonian village, strange things are afoot. The spirits of the dead return on All Souls Day. Supernatural helpers called kratt are stealing livestock. People are selling their souls to the Devil (who manifests as a vulgar prankster.) The Plague arrives, a young girl is a werewolf, and villagers are conspiring against a landowning German baron (played by Human Centipede standout Dieter Laser, no less!)
Confused? Don’t be. On paper, November might not sound like everyone’s cup
of tea. But in execution, it is a hypnotic and nearly hallucinogenic film, drenched in Estonian folklore and delivered in a chilling, immersive black and white. Compared to Apostle and Noroi: The Curse, November is remarkably light on scares and gore. However, November delivers in atmosphere by exploring the darkest, most absurd sides of rural life and worldviews. Like Japan, Eastern European folklore is severely underexplored in popular media. (The kratt, for instance, seems almost completely unique. You could compare it to the Golem of Jewish lore, but that analogy falls apart beyond a surface glance.) November serves as a brilliant example of the potential of Folk Horror as a genre to be less plot driven, and more about an overall “vibe.” It might not become your date night favorite, but exists as the first true Art House experience in the Folk Horror genre.
The next edition of this series will be the final full-length film analysis in the Folk Horror genre. If there are films that you, the reader, feel deserve more attention, please mention them in the comments!
Lucas Yochum is a writer and podcaster from St. Louis. For more of his non-horror related work, visit the website for his podcast, Blinders Off, at www.blindersoff.show