On Location: 5 Forests of Fear

In order to create the most believable ‘on screen’ worlds, films utilise a number of key elements, including computer generated imagery (CGI), set design and studio builds but perhaps most important, is the effective use of location. Films that rely heavily on a few key natural locations are able to keep costs down as they reduce the need for set dressing and costly studio rental fees.

Watch the Video Clip of Emily and Sarah Talking about the Films and Trailers

A natural location we see appearing time and time again in lower budget films is that of the forest. Low and medium budget thriller and horror films in particular make use of woodland in their on-screen worlds. The innate characteristics and physical benefits offered by the forest are a real gift to the film-maker. As far back as Shakespeare’s day, literature has presented the ‘woods’ as a place of mystery, trickery, evil and supernatural events, we see it again in the 19th century with the German fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm (e.g. in Hansel and Gretel), and the references continue right up to the present day with the likes of the 2014 film, ‘Into the Woods’ and aptly titled ‘The Forest’ (2016).

Physically, once under the canopy of the trees, our protagonists find themselves trapped,  disorientated, and confused within a repetitive landscape of untamed and unruly wilderness.  In the most basic sense, the trees and their darkness offer places for nefarious characters to hide and shelter so that their deeds can be concealed.

So now we invite you to follow us, breadcrumbs at the ready, into the deep dark forest as we explore our top 5 examples of when forests have been utilised effectively to generate a sense of fear and tension within a film.

Listen to our clip


Our Top 5 Forests of Fear

1.‘Severance’ (2006) Directed by Christopher Smith
Chosen by Emily


A still from the film

What’s it all about ? Severance, directed by Christopher Smith is a British comedy Horror thriller that tells the story of a group of sales representatives who, when on a team building weekend in a remote cabin in the forests of eastern europe, become the victims of a group of crazed killers who will stop at nothing to see them dead. The film boasts an all star cast including, Toby Stephens, Danny Dyer, Claudie Blakley, Andy Nyman, Babou Ceesay, Tim McInnerny, Laura Harris and David Gilliam.

Why we selected this film?
Emily: With a relatively low budget of an estimated at £5 million, the film made great use of the dramatic and atmospheric forests of the Isle of Man, which is where most of the on screen  action takes place. Arguably the film is rather formulaic and not everyone’s cup of tea, no doubt Danny Dyer’s involvement might put some audiences off, but I found the film’s depiction of location presented an effective sense of impending doom, as an innocent situation very quickly became something rather more sinister. The chase scenes through the trees were particularly well shot.

Trivia: Hilariously Danny Dyer spent 10 weeks toning up in the gym prior to shooting. His efforts aren’t noticable in the film. 

Severance’s Trailer:


2.Evil Dead (1981)  Directed by Sam Raimi
Chosen by Sarah


Behind the scenes on set

What’s it all about?  The Evil Dead is a 1981 American supernatural horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi and executive produced by Raimi and Bruce Campbell, who also stars alongside Ellen Sandweiss and Betsy Baker. The film focuses on five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in a remote wooded area. After they find an audiotape that releases a legion of demons and spirits, members of the group suffer from demonic possession, leading to increasingly gory mayhem.

Why we selected this film:
This is a bit of an obvious one to choose but it had to be done!  Even though much of the action takes place inside the cabin, the forest plays an integral part of the storyline (the thick expanse of trees hem the cabin in, adding to the secluded atmosphere, and, as anyone who has seen the original movie will know, there is an unforgettable and harrowing scene that takes place in the woods when one of the friends leaves the cabin)

Trivia:  Filming began in 1979 with a cast and crew of 37 people. Initial shooting finished in six weeks, but it took 1.5 years to edit the picture (Joel Coen was actually an Assistant Editor on the movie).

The Evil Dead Trailer:  


3.Take Down (2016) by Director Jim Gillespie
Chosen by Emily

Take Down narrow

Official promo image

What?  TAKE DOWN from Director Jim Gillespie, focuses on the reckless sons and daughters of international billionaires, who have been sent by their frustrated parents to an exclusive, tough-love boot camp on a remote island, where they will be taught basic survival skills in the hope it will teach them to take responsibility for their lives. When they are taken hostage and held for a billion dollar ransom by a group of sophisticated kidnappers, the young captives suddenly need every ounce of their brief training to survive.

The film stars a bevy of gorgeous talented young cast including Ed Westwick, Jeremy Sumpter, Phoebe Tonkin, Ashley Walters and Dominic Sherwood.
The film’s trailer has just surfaced, please watch out online for the film’s UK release date later this year..

Why we selected this film:  
Emily: I had the pleasure of working on Take Down when it was shot in 2014, so had first hand experience of being on location for the shoots. The majority of the lighthouse scenes were shot in Wales where as the quarry, cliff face, beach and of course Forest scenes were all shot in the Isle of Man. Over the fortnight of shooting, she film shot in several different Manx woodland areas including Ballaugh and Sulby Glen. The steep plantation floors made for a physically strenuous experience for both the cast and crew which reflect well on screen. The nature of the forest provides several perfect opportunities for ‘ambush’ scenarios. The woodland in Take Down houses the action sequences rather than the horror of Severance.

Trivia: In line with last month’s celebration of Female Filmmakers, the Film was Produced by accomplished producer Sarah Black.

Take Down’s Trailer:


4. Battle Royale (2000)  Directed by  Kinji Fukasaku

Chosen by Sarah

It's a pain in the neck

A still from the film

What’s it all about?  Battle Royale is a Japanese film directed by Kinji Fukasaku using a screenplay written by his son Kenta and stars, among others, Takeshi Kitano (probably best known for the TV show Takeshi’s Castle). The film tells the story of a junior high-school student who is struggling with the suicide of his father and who is forced by the government to compete in a deadly game where the students in his class must fight to the death, with only the sole survivor being allowed to live.

Why we selected this film:
This is very similar to films like Take Down or The Hunger Games franchise but pre-dates all of them (the novel the film was based on was published in 1999 and was seen as very controversial at the time).  The forest setting is used both as a sanctuary for the characters and a place where surprise attacks can be staged and traps can be constructed; the environment is much more functional than atmospheric in other words.  I’d say Battle Royale is a beautiful blend of action, horror and thriller and I urge everyone to check it out – it’s brilliant!

Trivia:  Director Kinji Fukasaku celebrated his 70th birthday during the production. He passed away two years later during the production of the sequel “Battle Royale II” (2003), ending a 40 year career in the director’s chair.

Battle Royale’s Trailer:  


  1. Camera Trap (2015) Written and Directed Alex Verner
    Chosen by Emily


    Official promo image

What’s it all about? Camera Trap from Writer Director Alex Verner is a natural history documentary style horror-thriller about a British wildlife film unit, set in the depths of central Asia. Using the latest in camera trap technology, four film-makers go out in search of the rare Amur Snow Leopard. What they discover is something far more terrifying than they expected.

Why we selected this film:
I worked on this film in 2013 creating all of the DVD extras or EPK, this is the third film we’re focussing on which was shot on the Isle of Man. The film has the same producer as Severance, Jason Newmark. Unlike Severance and Take Down, however, Camera Trap makes use of the forests at night time, displaying it a variety of erie ways. The USP of the film is how it makes use of various camera technologies, state of the art infrared cameras, handheld diary cameras, head cameras, body cameras, gopros, camera traps and starlight camera. The use of darkness in conjunction with camera footage that excluded great deal of information from the frame, plays on the audience’s fear of the unknown. It’s in Camera Trap that the location of the forest at night really shines. Who knows what’s lurking behind the trees…

Camera Trap is available to download on iTunes with this link:


Trivia:  The film seamlessly joins forest shot in the Isle of Man with that of Nepal.

Camera Trap’s Trailer:

Which films would you include in your top 5 forests of fear?


Film Focus elsewhere:
Blog: reelvision.wordpress.com
Facebook: facebook.com/FilmFocusReelVision
Video Channel: vimeo.com/channels/filmfocus
Audio Channel: soundcloud.com/filmfocus
iTunes: itunes.apple.com/…/podcast/film-focus

Happy Movie Going!