Judge Bill Gibron was frequently unnerved by this "true" bit of Once Upon a Time...
When Fact—of a Foreign Culture's Version of Same—is Stranger Than Fiction
For many cultures, history is measured out more accurately in fables, fairytales, and folklore. It's one thing to accurately record the facts and figures of a particular place; it's another to understand their indigenous mindset, and how they have interacted with the truths and terrors of the real world. Designed as both a documentary and an oral record of the frozen in time tenets of Romania, Transylvania, and the Carpathian Mountains; American filmmakers Justin Blair and Matthew Vincent traveled to the region to record stories of vampires, werewolves, and forest sprites. What they got was the last vestiges of a region losing its identity to rising technology and unavoidable globalization. For the villagers who share their superstitious stories here, one thing is crystal clear: the events and evil entities they discuss are very, very real. Like all truth in the coat of legend, however, they are often more cruel and cautionary than anything else.
From the very beginning of Across the Forest, we see the true motive of these myths. From making sure the women didn't stay out too late to guaranteeing the kids would not go where they shouldn't, elders spun tales of terrible fates for the benefit of their otherwise obvious lack of control. Nothing induces conformity faster than fear, and the stories of the dead walking, wolves seeking specific revenge, and haunting hags of fate fill the bill quite nicely. Instead of trying to spin the material, making us either laugh at or dismiss these otherwise noble people, Blair and Vincent simply set up the camera and record the conversation. It's a wonderful illustration in the art of storytelling. Some of these decent, rustic individuals are better at selling their yarns than others. One older woman has such a hard time with her tale of a recently deceased woman back from the grave that you swear she is just making it up. On the other hand, another villager tells a very simple story of evil, signing herself to ensure we recognize how real it is to her.
The opening appears to outline an alternate gambit for the duo, and we see some signs of it throughout. Along with nicely rendered charcoal sketches of the stories, Blair and Vincent clearly hoped to head out into the wilderness and capture some "proof" of these legends. Indeed, the first tale featured living (well, at least until recently) participants who the pair had hoped to track down and tape. In another setting, an aging man argues that his tree was haunted by a loud spirit. When asked to see the offending plant, we learn that it has since been removed. Once you dismiss the idea that this will turn into some kind of Slavic Blair Witch Project, our cameramen heading out into the night to confront unseen and unspeakable demons, you get the real feel of Across the Forest. For its window into a fading culture and dying dynamic, it's stunning. For its inherent entertainment value and Brothers Grimm like words of admonition, it's equally impressive. Just don't think you're going to see any of the entities described herein. In the case of this collection, words speak louder than actions—or actuality.
Offered in a simple DVD presentation, the tech specs are basic: 1.33:1 full screen image, basic Dolby Digital Stereo soundtrack. There are no bonus features, no added content. As a matter of fact, much of the background information on this project must be gleaned from official websites and press releases. The film itself just starts with people talking, and ends on the same singular note. Fascinating and often unnerving, Across the Forest is one set of campfire tales you'll remember for a long time to come.
Not Guilty. Fascinating and often frightening.
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