It’s difficult not to appreciate Temple Wood’s audacity, even in the face of poor cinematography, terrible acting, nonsensical story structure and non-existent character development. In any other film these criticisms would hold some weight, but Temple Wood, an experimental folk-Horror B-Movie mystery, seems to revel in it’s faults. I suppose that’s where the ‘B-movie’ part of the tagline comes in. If you think all this is sounding vaguely Garth Marenghi, you’re on the right track.
Temple Wood is an astonishingly simple story that is set up as a complicated mystery, the reason for this is a mystery in itself, but for now lets just establish the plot. Probable Doctor Who fan Martin travels to a little village in the Scottish Highlands, hoping to continue his teachers research into bizarre Pagan rituals which, for some reason, have a terrible, overbearing significance for the protagonist. There are vague hints that Martin’s teacher (and mentor, probably) is dead, and that Martin himself might have walked into some kind of trap, where the inhabitants of the Scottish village plan to sacrifice him to their sexy, sexy Gods.
A lot of this is guess work, because the film has absolutely no structure, which is somewhat forgivable considering Temple Wood is meant as a kind of experimental journey into the subconscious, rather than a straight narrative. What is less forgivable is Martin’s complete lack of identity. His floppy hair and tendency to push his half-moon spectacles up his nose are quirks, and nothing more, as a character he’s a blank piece of paper, as unconvincing as the ‘ye olde’ handwriting he fawns over, supposedly hunting for clues.
This is particularly frustrating, because all the other problems with the film could be easily overcome if we only cared what happened to Martin. There are hints (some more subtle than others) of sexual repression, which is revealed as more of a ‘twist’ than a much needed injection of character growth. Apart from that, Martin is remarkably uninteresting.
But despite all it’s flaws, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Temple Wood. Again, it seemed to revel in it’s faults, to embrace it’s problems, to celebrate it’s B-movie attributes. And as things build to an obvious climax, there is an effort to indulge in some good old fashioned sex and gore, and a combination of the two, which at least add a bit of variety if nothing else.
Speaking of indulgence, the film is at it’s most enjoyable when the folky, prog rock music kicks in and Martin wanders around the various beautiful landscapes, acting as nothing more than a vessel for the audience. If anything there’s not enough emphasis on the music and sound design, some solid diegetic sound would have added more to the atmosphere than any amount of handheld camerawork. It is clear there was an effort to create a mood using some genuinely decent music, and that’s certainly one of the strongest points of the film.
In the end Temple Wood, affectionately subtitled ‘A Quest For Freedom’, has almost accomplished exactly what it set out to do, but it’s up to you if you can handle it. The film has a lot of passion, and a lot of balls, but it’s lack of character development makes it’s other faults seem less forgivable. There are plenty of nods to the Horror films it’s trying to emulate, not least The Wicker Man, and the attempts to blend fact and fiction are somewhat noble, but overall the film doesn’t live up to it’s ambition. But at least it does have ambition, and if you watch Temple Wood with a few friends (and a few drinks as well) you might just find yourself feeling oddly affectionate towards this bizarre odyssey into madness, darkness and folk-Horror.