New to digital services, to buy and rent, is the British docu-film, Sideworld: Haunted Forests of England. Directed and (mostly) narrated by George Popov, the movie explores the myths, legends, and folklore connected to the English landscape, through a 70-minute discussion piece.
Divided into chapters, Sideworld throws the spotlight on three key locations: Wistman’s Woods in Devon, Cannock Chase Forest in Staffordshire, and Epping Forest in Essex. Each location is home to various weird and often creepy stories, and Popov spends around 20-minutes a-piece lifting the lid on as many different tales as possible.
Anecdotes and narration play out over the top of footage of the woodlands and forests, to show how stunning and mysterious the locations and stories are. This footage is then combined with drawings and stock photos, as the director delves deeper into the folklore.
Various topics are covered in the film, from savage hounds, witches and gods, to ancient burial grounds, a ghostly child, mysterious deaths, and even a gruesome pig-man. Popov looks at the way in which the forests and woods have provided the backdrop for stories involving Sherlock Holmes and Dick Turpin, and he showcases the darkness that supposedly dwells amongst some of England’s best-loved beauty spots.
From start to finish, Sideworld is a conveyor belt of tales, ideal for those keen to learn more about English folklore. It is the sort of movie which would work well as a primer for those just getting into folk tales and myths, or who simply like to hear about hidden horrors and wicked woodlands.
However, be warned, this docu-film chucks so much at the screen, and in such a short time frame, it does get a little overwhelming and it all becomes less interesting the longer it goes on. The problem is that so many topics are covered, and none in any major depth, that it feels like Popov is merely moving from one to the next, just to ensure lots of different folktales are mentioned.
On the plus side, those who are interested in getting some surface-level mythology, or who simply want to know what spooky stories are connected to Cannock Chase et al, may find that Sideworld just about works for them. This is a niche docu-film, so it is entirely possible that the niche this is aiming for are more than happy to delve deeper on their own time, and will use this film as a jumping off point.
Sideworld also benefits from some stunning shots of the English landscape, which show both the romantic and picturesque side of the country, as well as the mysterious and mythical side. Cinematographer Richard Suckling balances everything just right here, to show how the forests and woodlands can be so inviting and so deadly too.
At all times, the key focus of this docu-film is to highlight a sinister side to the natural beauty. This is something which comes across very well, and permeates the entire piece.
But did the film work for me? Not as much as I would have liked, no.
I can see what Sideworld is attempting and parts of it tapped into my curiosity for myths and legends, but the docu-film never quite grabbed my attention or sparked my imagination enough. I never expected to feel entirely fulfilled with the stories and anecdotes, as there are very few definitive answers to discussions about mythology, but the lack of depth here is what is missing for me.
If Sideworld focused more on one location, or trimmed back on some of its stories so it was less scattershot, then it would land a little harder. I also feel the movie could benefit from a little more warmth and personality at times, as some of the narration – specifically the parts not covered by the director – feel as if they have been created through a computer algorithm, rather coming from a human being.
So, it is a mixed bag I’m afraid. Sideworld will certainly appeal to a select audience, and may spark some new Google searches here and there based on its content, but I would have liked more from this docu-film.