Slices of domestic tension may undercut the fairytale sheen of Woodhouse, but the seams of Fred Rowson’s tapestried short are still bursting with whimsy. A tale of childhood imagination, Chinese whispers and unfulfilled dreams, Woodhouse flits breathlessly between an array of characters in a style reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, complete with prosaic narration and an earthy colour palette.
A missing cat precipitates a young girl’s search through the South East London nature reserve of the title, only to be allegedly stalked by an unseen being. Young Carley’s story gains traction throughout her school, igniting an obsession within Peter, a paranoid caretaker with a penchant for internet forums. The time he dedicates to exposing what exactly lies in these woods attracts the attention of a bored journalist, but is Peter wasting his time? And how can he be sure the press don’t have an agenda of their own?
What Rowson’s script lacks in major set pieces it makes up for in charming nuances. Everything from Carley’s cluttered homestead to the journal she records her investigation into the backstories of two legendary “explorers, adventurers, and dreamers” is remarkably detailed. Both Carley and Peter are sold as similarly brave pioneers, but the harsh realities of the adult world are never too far away, leading to a teary breakdown that threatens to alter the film’s tone completely.
The film’s production was supported by Film London’s London Borough Film Fund Challenge, and the boost in budget shows. Rowson hustles the viewer from setting to setting, often in the space of a few seconds, but always taking care to afford each one its own identity. Woodhouse may be a feast for the eyes, but its secret weapon is Ben Please’s score: a mix of ominous strings and tribal drums slaps that allow the film’s sense of cautious optimism to swell organically.
Despite its fantastical credentials, grounded performances and a teasing plot ensure Woodhouse is no mere bedtime story, but an evocative and promising work.