Temple Wood: A Quest for Freedom (2012)
Director: Ethan Race
Writers: Ethan Race
Starring: Adam Butcher

The Plot: Temple Wood: A Quest for Freedom tells the story of Martin, a young student whose professor goes missing while investigating ancient practices set around an ancient burial ground in the Scottish highlands. Martin packs up his things, finds a small room for rent, and takes up his professor’s investigation of Temple Wood. However, he soon finds that his professor’s disappearance may be related to ancient druid practices and some very dark happenings within these highlands. As Martin explores, he finds that he finds himself digging deep into his own emotions and if he is ever allowed to leave these highlands – he will never be the same again.

The Review
Described as a folksy-yet-surreal horror title, I knew next to nothing about Temple Wood: A Quest for Freedom before actually sitting down to watch it. Going into a movie with very little in terms of preparation is either a guarantee for success or a recipe for disaster, depending on the film being discussed. When I know a movie is going to be surreal though, I generally know that I can walk in with a little less preparation. Afterall, everything that is going to be thrown at me will be entirely subjective and open to interpretation, so there’s no need to familiarize myself with many outside facts. This isn’t a historical epic or a drama, and the only preparation necessary is being familiar with the human experience. While Temple Wood turns out to be a much more linear piece of work than I expected, I was happy to find that it is indeed the sort of movie that audiences can throw on at any point and simply absorb it. With that said, I believe it is still very obvious that this is not a movie for all audiences. Featuring some striking visuals, some mature subject matter, and some obtuse dream logic, Temple Wood is everything that I probably hoped that the movie would be.

The look and vibe that Temple Wood emits could possibly be described as Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (due to wild fashion and a love for over-the-top aesthetics, not necessarily because of any humor) mixed with classic Hammer horror, after these two were spun together through a 8-bit Nintendo processor. Sound kinda crazy/kinda fun? My thoughts exactly. Creating a very atmospheric world right off the bat, the film brims with mystery and even absurdity at times. The surrealistic nature, which I will get to shortly, doesn’t really come into play until the movie has firmly developed. Indeed, the film certainly has a surreal nature to it, but it is best compared to David Lynch’s later work. Films such as Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire all begin their narratives in rather conventional ways, but as the plot progresses all three movies become more unhinged. Temple Wood never moves so far out of bounds that it wanders offtrack, but it certainly concludes in a manner that relies heavily on symbolism and the personal interpretations of the viewer. While I would say that the director leaves the movie completely open to interpretation, much of the symbolism seems to point in one direction. While the viewer may not be able to decipher every single scene, they can not be far off track if they believe the film is about one man’s own personal struggle with his sexuality.

Director Ethan Race likes for his film to occasionally overdose on style. While the movie starts off with a palette and design that seems to evoke a classically toned down style of British horror, the movie ultimately becomes a bit more “out there” as it moves along. The dream sequences of our main protagonist are nice demonstrations of this. Featuring some very retro process shots and some very surreal imagery, these sequences make this otherwise dreamy movie become completely abstract. Although Race does a great job in showing off the Scottish highlands, when it comes to these bizarre dream sequences, he truly gets to show off his visual eye. Indeed, there are few dull shots to be found in Temple Wood. Whether by brilliant composition or an insane amount of luck, Ethan captures some absolutely beautiful lighting within the Scottish countryside and the director shows off an affinity for deep contrasting shadows. Night shoots can be a pain for independent filmmakers usually, but Race shows a masterful hand with them. Using very simple methods for lighting, sometimes apparently using a flashlight to light the protagonist, Race manages to create some truly spooky scenes due to this very stripped down use of bright lights.

The acting in the film is surprisingly strong. Temple Wood may not have a huge cast, but it does show a surprising amount of maturity for an independent feature film that clocks in at just under one hour. There are occasional bits where some of the performers go a little over-the-top, but for the most part the cast all seem invested in their characters and are able to give convincing performances. Adam Butcher, who plays Martin, is certainly worth noting because he holds this film together. His character could have been grating in so many different ways, but the actor shows a charming sort of curiosity throughout the film. Although he can certainly go a bit over-the-top himself, for the most part he is the perfect device to carry the audience through this very strange mystery.

The Conclusion
As I have mentioned, Temple Wood is not a movie that is targeted at all audiences. I believe that its power is relegated for a niche audience, but for those who are receptive to it, they will find a very strong piece of work. Filled with some grotesque imagery (including tree branch anal sex), Temple Wood may take some time in finding a proper audience, but if you like your horror movies a bit on the surreal side: this one comes highly recommended. I actually give it a four out of five. That’s a relatively high rating, but I think the movie earns it. I’m not saying that all readers should rush out to buy it, but certainly look into it. Ethan Race is a filmmaker who may end up making waves in the near future. You can read more about the film at its official website, templewoodfilm.com