Thinking In The Dark : Trees In Horror Movies

Isn’t it astonishing the power trees can have over us? How they can fill us with joy, enough that we could burst, or, at the other end of the spectrum, make us feel so damn terrified that we’re hardly able to process our feelings, but know only that we need to get away from said tree/s as quickly as fucking possible?

During my 32 years, I’ve found myself becoming attached to dozens of trees. I’d stop by one, and sit with it a while, or, if I’m just passing, pause to touch its trunk with my hands and whisper something to it. I can fall in love with a tree in a heartbeat. But while there have been many good memories made with trees, there’s also been some trees that have turned my blood cold. Trees so grotesquely contorted that they look as though they’ve been cursed. More often than not, these trees fascinate me and I love and embrace them, but sometimes, the energy surrounding them doesn’t feel good or safe.

My attachment to trees extends into every part of my life, including my passion for horror, and my favourite horror movies take part among trees. One of the reasons the forest so greatly appeals to me is because it can switch from being a safe and beautiful haven to a dark place of untold terror. A single tree too, can, in one moment, be a friend with whom you’d take shelter, and in the next, be something you should fear.

The first movie I watched that made me really think hard about the woods as a place that could harbour dark and dangerous things, was The Blair Witch Project. The wood in the movie wasn’t what I’d been expecting. (It looked more like what we used to call ‘the little woods.’ when I was a kid. A patch of woodland from where I could still hear my mum when she stood on the doorstep and shouted me in for tea.) It didn’t seem to have enough trees if that makes sense. BUT it still managed to scare the shit out of me. And it still does. A horror movie doesn’t have to be, I’ve realized, set in an evergreen wilderness to be able to make my heart stop.

The Blair Witch (2016) is another favourite, and I liked that they amped up the witch’s presence in this movie, especially with the staggering amount of twig figures and the scene with the drone. I felt more frightened about the woods in this movie and I feel I wasn’t in that same patch of woodland that I’d been in the first film. They made me feel exceptionally uneasy.

Pet Sematary (1989) was another horror that impacted me in my early years. While the Micmac burial ground sent the harshest chill through my bones, the moonlit footpath and the forest in which the Pet Sematary was nestled and through which the dead trudged back home, unsettled me so much that there’s never been a time when I haven’t felt unsettled by it. I think about it today and feel as scared as I did nearly twenty years ago.

When I watched Lars Von Trier’s movie Antichrist, it was a crappy, pirated version on a laptop screen and I’ve always been meaning to re-watch it properly. I came away from it feeling like I needed to re-immerse myself in its chaos. The woods in Antichrist terrified, and intrigued me. They had me wanting to run to them with open arms, and simultaneously run away from them screaming. I left that film with so, so many questions. I can’t wait to return to the woods to get the answers I seek.

The VVitch is my favourite horror movie of all time, and while there isn’t a lot of time spent in the actual forest itself, its presence is always, always there. The precious moments where we crossed from the field into the trees were moments I clung to with everything I had. I didn’t want to miss a second among the moss, low hanging branches, and shadows.

It feels quite strange to say this, considering that it’s not my favourite horror film, but it was the forest in The Ritual that has left me more haunted than any of the above films. The tension in this film – and it’s tense most of the time – fed my hunger for terror and I bit my nails until they bled. There are particular scenes that are going to stay with me for the rest of my life, but they aren’t the scenes with the monster, as most would expect, but the moments of anxiety as the characters stumble all the wrong ways through the vast forests of Northern Sweden.

*While The Ritual is set in Sweden, it was actually filmed in Romania.

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