New Horror Releases: Rootwood (2020) - Reviewed


When three people go into a supposedly haunted forest to film a documentary, creepy occurrences make them fear for their own safety. The horror movie Rootwood has a lot in common with The Blair Witch Project: besides the premise, there are strange objects among the trees, panicked pleas to the camera, spooky noises in the dark, etc. It is not found-footage; though, since they are making a movie, there are scenes using the POV of their camera. This is a slow-burn thriller, with a large amount of setup in the first half-hour, followed by aimless wandering, weak suspense and lame dialogue. It all leads to a conclusion that is somehow both predictable and out of nowhere. The filmmakers have a bunch of ideas, some of them good, but could not slap them together into anything entertaining.

The desperation of aspiring independent filmmakers and the unsettling isolation of the forest are well-established. The story, the central myth and the characters themselves are not. There is a lot of time spent on the relationship between podcasters Will and Jessica and their photographer friend, Erin. Despite that, we learn very little about them. What information we do get does not really play into the plot. There is some mild personal drama and a tiny bit of talk about their careers. All of that material is irrelevant once they begin to get scared. It ends up feeling like Rootwood is killing time.

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A big issue is Will, Jessica and Erin are not likable characters. Will is obsessed and arrogant and the women are basically helpless without him. It is not fun to be in their company; not even in an “I want to see them get killed in a horror movie’ kind of way. It is difficult to care about what happens to them. Unfortunately, there is not enough going on in the story to make up for that.

The legend they are investigating, The Curse of the Wooden Devil, is introduced early on, yet it is not nearly detailed enough to bring intrigue to the goings-on. Then it is mostly complaining in the forest with the occasional startling moment thrown in to keep viewers aware of the presence that seems to be stalking the protagonists. However, there is no consistent tension, dread or sense of place. It shows us stuff while explaining none of it. It does not actually build toward the final act. It is an hour of clich├ęs that generate absolutely no interest, finishing with a packed, and rushed, climax that reveals much without really saying anything. It is like they had plot elements, then decided to wait until the end to use them, so we would be extra surprised. By that time, it was far too late.

There are a few good shots of something mysterious moving in the background, as well as the characters getting lost in the enormity of the forest. The ending at least grabbed my attention, with a ton going on after so little had taken place in the first ¾. Still, as a whole, Rootwood is a pretty dull take on a familiar story. Too many pieces are missing for this to come together in an enjoyable way.

-Ben Pivoz

Rootwood will be available on demand on April 7, 2020.