Why are trees so scary?

I know what you’re thinking: “What kind of title is this?”

Well, have you ever stopped to think about how many horror/thriller/slasher movies are set in the woods?


It’s so pervasive that there’s actually a horror trope for it: “the cabin in the woods.”

Evil Dead (1 & 2), Cabin Fever, countless imitators, and even a quasi-parody (but OUTSTANDING horror film) from Joss Whedon actually titled The Cabin in the Woods.

So why are trees, and by extension forests, so scary?

In the last 2 years, movie-goers have been treated to THREE separate movies where the forest/trees are the de facto protagonist. From 2015 we have The Witch and The Hallow, and from 2016, we have The Forest.

the witch.jpg

The Witch is a tale set in the 17th century New England, as a family is cast out of their community for heresy. Taking up residence on the edge of the woods, they slowly fall prey to seemingly supernatural events attributed to “the witch” that lives in the forest.

This is a great piece that really does the thriller genre proud, and the forest is suitably creepy, even when it simply lurks in the background behind the farm.

the hallow.png

In The Hallow, an Irish family moves into a dark, desolate forest with a reputation among the locals. Slowly experiencing a horror unlike anything they could have predicted, the spirits and creatures of the forest take vengeance on the family.

This is a bit more of a scientific take on the genre, so I won’t spoil it for you (but you’ll see it coming). Still creepy, creepy, creepy.

the forest.png

In The Forest, a vast forest in Japan is known as the suicide forest, a place where people go who want to end their lives. When a woman’s twin sister vanishes in the forest, she goes to find her, only to fall prey to the area’s apparent tendency to force you to confront your deepest, darkest fears, and possibly drive you to take your own life.

This one I had the highest hopes for, and was my favorite of the three. Not perfect, but very moody and atmospheric, with pretty good character development and just enough twists to make it unpredictable without being convoluted.

[*Editor’s note: apparently, next month we will also be getting another Blair Witch film, set in—of course—the woods.]

But, what exactly is it about the forests, then, that makes them so easy to set film such as these in?

Is it some primal fear we humans have of dark places, where creatures can live and move around us without being seen?

Is it that nugget of our reptilian brains that holds out fight or flight response that puts us on edge when the sun goes down through the trees, plunging us into a darkness that can border on the absolute, hiding from our sight any real or imagined threats?

Honestly, I don’t know.

All I know is the forest is a scary place to set a movie.

And, when it’s done properly, it’s a movie I want to see.


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