Friday, September 03, 2021

Vamp or Not? The Village in the Woods

This is a British folk horror directed by Raine McCormack and released in 2019. It captures, really well, that sense of Uncanny with the protagonists kept off kilter by the familiar feeling distinctly unfamiliar, a sense of decay and the feeling that they have stepped into the past. It plays with the idea of faerie – in the mist shrouded village that defies escape. There are elements, like the little “corn” dolls, which might tie into a deeper lore, unexplored, but are window dressing for the folk horror fan also.

As you can guess, given this article, there was also something about this that tweaked the “vampire radar”. Not your traditional undead bloodsucker, to be fair, but there are vampire stories that touch into faerie and the inhabitants of that realm.

slept in the car

After a moment where we see character Nikki (Beth Park) on a bed, outlandish lipstick on her face and fear in her eyes, the film proper starts with Jason (Robert Vernon) and Nikki driving and looking for the village Coopers Cross. They are in the woods and referring to, what appears to be, a hand drawn map. They drive past the sign for the village and then come across it again (this looping suggesting that they have already passed into a place they cannot leave) and then the car dies. Jason tries to get a phone signal, there isn’t one, and they are forced to sleep in the car. In the morning they walk down the road and reach the abandoned inn they were looking for almost immediately.

the inn

Now the inn is interesting, the sign calling it the Harbour Inn, the sign has twin deer heads (not something normally associated with harbours) and, of course, harbours are a shoreside thing, not normally associated with the centre of woodland. But harbours are also a place on a borderland. They are greeted by passing local Maddy (Therese Bradley), who calls Nikki by Rebecca, which she responds to, and notices the “family ring” Nikki wears. She gets them petrol – but when Jason fills the car it still won’t start. So, what’s going on?

meeting the locals

Nikki and Jason are down on their luck and have been talked into a scam where Nikki poses as Rebecca – long missing – and picks up the inheritance she won’t collect – the Harbour Inn. The inn is long abandoned and decrepit inside, and has an unwanted squatter in the flat, Arthur (Sidney Kean, Lifeforce) – but the idea is simply to sell it on. The ring Nikki is wearing was said to be one Rebecca would wear but, as the film progresses it causes a rash-like reaction and she can’t remove it. Most of the film is about atmosphere. It is at the end that we get the reason for the ‘Vamp or Not’ and beware massive spoilers.

the satyr

The couple have been lured to the village and once there they cannot leave. There are four locals we primarily see – and one suspects that, along with the one who lured them, that is that. The ring marks Nikki and the locals claim lineage to a satyr (Phill Martin). Once every three hundred moons they are fertile and can plant their seed in a human. They do this to ensure their immortality. If the vessel (Nikki) can be impregnated and carry the baby (something that failed with Arthur’s deceased wife, as they were the previously lured couple) then, on the sixth hour of the sixth week from its birth, they will “drink its blood, consume its tender flesh and devour its heart”. Doing so will sustain them for 100 years, failing to do so sees them wither.

face morphed

And that is it. Arthur is sacrificed to the satyr – they call it a demon at one point, which I disliked as it seems off that the descendants of the satyr would think of it in such Judeo-Christian terms. The sacrifice is given for fertility to be granted – Jason is clearly going to be trapped and treated the same way in the future. It is local Charles (Richard Hope) who will actually do the deed (though a dream sequence of the satyr shows it in action) and he takes on satyr facial features to do so – to me indicating that the association of not being human but descended from the satyr is accurate, rather than him being possessed by the satyr. There is a sepia picture in the bar of a man who “looks like” Charles and holds twins proudly, suggesting he is the primary impregnator.

inn sign

And it all comes down to being immortal so long as they devour an infant every so often. It has to be a human infant conceived using their seed and the fact that they have to devour it early after birth (clearly the sixth hour of the sixth day is meant to bring the Judeo-Christian 666 into the viewer's mind) is reminiscent of the rules in The Guardian. This was great fun, piles of atmosphere and off-kilter in all the right places. It also felt quintessentially British. It really didn’t need those couple of Christianity nodding moments as it works as a pure fae inspired piece. And for me, I think we can say “Vamp”.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

No comments: