Temple Wood: A Quest For Freedom (2012)
Written and directed by Ethan Race
Student Martin is puzzled by the disappearance of his lecturer, Dr Martin Martenson. Arriving at his house, sealed off by crime scene tape, Martin sneaks into the home to investigate. In Martenson’s study is a journal detailing the old man’s research and findings on the mystery of Temple Wood. Curious as to whether his disappearance is linked with the work in his journal, Martin sets off to Kilmartin, where the eerie stone circle megaliths of Temple Wood reside. But is Martin prepared for what he’ll uncover at Temple Wood?
Temple Wood: A Quest For Freedom is a terrific independent film from writer, director and producer Ethan Race. Basing the story around a real-life, 3500BC stone circle in the country of Argyll, Race has crafted an intriguing, creepy paganesque folk horror starring only a handful of characters.
After bookwormish Martin arrives in the village of Glenmartin, he books himself a room at the local inn, run by a seemingly pleasant woman. Staying in the cosy attic room, the landlady informs him that they very rarely use the room and that he can only stay in that particular one due to the other rooms booked up for the festival that’s occurring. Festival, hmmm? Martin quickly sets about investigating the stone circle of Temple Wood and the swirl markings on the stones, but nothing could prepare for the visions he is about to witness.
If you take a splash of The Wicker Man and combine it with some disturbing surreal visions of a sunflower god with a twig phallus then you’ll have the experience of Temple Wood. At the heart of the film is a mystery waiting to be uncovered, but throughout the film there’s much more going on. With Martin the only person we really spend time with, we start to feel isolated from the outside world, almost trapped with Martin, for good or for bad. We’re with him every step of the way as he roams the woodlands during the day and evening, with visions of sacrificial cults and sexual rituals blurring the lines between reality and personal nightmares. Even as the film creeps up to its eerie finale, we don’t totally know for sure what is going on, with director Ethan Race leaving some of the theory up to the individual. The ambiguity works really well and only serves to increase tension and fear of the unknown depths even more.
I decided to watch Temple Wood: A Quest For Freedom through a pair of headphones rather than my usual speakers and I’m so glad I did. I could hear every floorboard creak, rustle of the leaves and tweet of the birds. The sound production is marvellous and really adds to the pagan folk horror vibe which Race is going for.
Practically carrying the film on his shoulders is actor Adam Butcher who stars as the nerdy Martin. Butcher does a fantasic job and comes across as very likable from the offset. Wearing a tan corduroy jacket and carrying around his satchel full of papers and Martenson’s book, Martin cuts a very lonely figure, one who seems to be most at home with himself, his books or with someone who shares his passion, such as the missing lecturer. Our only real source of information comes through Martin, who’s own perception of what’s going on in Temple Wood itself could be skewed somewhat. As the film progresses and the story unfolds, so does the mind of Martin as he discovers some truths about himself, once hidden away and now rearing their ugly head.
Ethan Race has shown talent with Temple Wood: A Quest For Freedom, his first feature length film which runs just short of an hour in length. The images conjured in the film are some of the most creepiest I’ve seen this year, and with the film firmly in the experimental folk horror genre, it was always going to be up my street. Atmospheric and disturbing, if this is what Race can create first time at feature length, I can’t wait to see what marvels he has up his sleeve in the future.