Interview With Director George Popov: Sideworld, Haunted Forests Of England

Written by Luke Barnes

I recently had the chance to interview director George Popov about his new film Sideworld: Haunted Forests Of England which serves as a tour around some of the most haunted forests in England, wherein you learn about the forests’ past and supposed supernatural visitors. In this interview we discuss spooks, spectres, and English forests.  I hope you enjoy.  

Q: What made you want to make this film?

GP: Folkloric tales and legends have always been an inspiration for me and a lot of the narrative projects I’ve been wanting to make and we’ve developed so far, go hand in hand with an overall interest in any kind of dark mythology. At the same time, I’ve always been interested in paranormal or unusual cases and that, alongside opening your imagination for storytelling, are also just really curious from a factual perspective. And not necessarily from the point of view of putting a cap on what’s actually true or not, because that can be very difficult to identify and it can be very procedural. (And there is plenty of documentaries that already do that.) For me, the main interest is combining those perspectives and conveying a strong atmosphere to experience horror myths and legends that the viewer might not be necessarily familiar with. And I think that applies not just for “Haunted forests of England”, but for our intention for the SIDEWORLD series in general.

Q: What was your message?

GP: When it comes to the stories in the documentary, I wouldn’t say we had a desire to necessarily convey a strong subjective point of view. In fact, Jonathan and me were very careful to be both a Mulder and a Scully (or a believer and a sceptic for the non-X-Files-fans out there). The thematic relevance of forests as a setting for all these cases is where we try to make a stronger unifying point. Particularly the human predisposition to use the forest as a veil for any activity that is supposed to remain hidden.

Q: Why did you decide on documentary for your next project?

GP: A lot of the stories that we tackle in these documentary films are ones that I’d love to explore as a narrative feature. However that would also mean that I’d need to book off the next 250 years and not make anything else. And also stretching them into a longer more demanding narrative might not be the best thing for them. The SIDEWORLD format seemed best. In the way that it’s a documentary series of feature films that explore different horror legends under a unifying theme

Q: Have you had any creepy experiences in forests before?

GP: Not anything that would make it in a documentary like this, and nothing that I’d dare to confirm as extraordinary. Although I’ll be lying if I say we didn’t experience a particular feeling especially in some sites in Epping Forest in relation to the Suicide Pond story. But I’d attribute that to preconceived notions and auto-suggestion. I prefer it that way.

Q: There is something quite primordial about forests, is there something about returning to nature that has people questioning their humanity?

GP: I think nature’s role in our development has always been a catalyst for debates and existential crisis. And I think that’s only getting more relevant the more we progress. The tug of war between nature and technology is at the core of many questions of what it means to be human. I don’t know but I personally don’t think there is much future for us if we continue to see them as two things at odds with each other.

Q: Who were your influences on this project?

GP: I don’t know. I think it would have been a much easier question if I was taking about my narrative projects. Probably because I feel still very new to this. A lot of people would say Ken Burns or something when it comes to the format. But honestly I think it’s closer to trying to recreate the feeling I had as a kid going through storybooks full of horror fairytales and factual ones trying to solve the mysteries of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. It must be a combination of all that.

 Q: What is your favourite horror film set in the woods/forest?

GP: Off the top of my head: The Blair Witch Project, Antichrist and Evil Dead 2. I know, probably weird given how different from each other they are. I guess that’s why they came to mind. They all capture what makes forests so intriguing and terrifying in extremely unique ways.

Q: Future plans?

GP: We’re in post-production of our second Sideworld documentary, which I’m very excited to share with everyone very soon. This time the theme is sea-related horror myths and legends. The depth and variety of stories and visuals is even greater I think. We’re also working on a couple of our next bigger narrative projects. We’ve been working with some great producers recently and I’m really excited to update everyone on my next narrative feature in the next few months. In the meantime we have more Sideworld filming to do, and while dealing with the elements can be challenging on those shoots, nothing beats experiencing those places first hand, so I always look forward to it.

Q: Any words for aspiring filmmaker?

GP: Probably I’d encourage aspiring filmmakers to ask themselves how they and everyone around them consume films these days and be up to date with the changes that are occurring in the industry, because there is a lot of opportunity in that. The filmmaking community has become a lot more social recently and there’s plenty of chances for filmmakers to share useful knowledge with each other. Read articles, listen to podcasts, go to festivals. And listen, I might not be able to answer every email, but if you buy me or another director a beer, we’d usually answer your questions. We do love to talk…a lot.

If you would like to check out Sideworld: Haunted Forests Of England the film can be found on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and if you’re from the US on TubiTV.

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Sideworld Haunted Forests Of England: Viewing Material Before Your Next Trip To The Woods

5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

3 of England’s most haunted forests are explored with their myths and folklore brought to life.

I can’t believe George Popov has done it again, he has forged yet another masterpiece after his previous work The Droving. I think this film spoke to me so much personally because I am a huge folklore fan, I love going to new locations and learning about their strange and mysterious pasts, my book shelf is filled with tomes about mysteries and ghost stories and so this film was right up my alley.

I enjoyed how the film was set out, I thought by exploring 3 different forests and by extension 3 different types of folklore the film allowed itself a lot of room to stay fresh and also produce so really strong scares. I was surprised at how many times this film unsettled me, moreover it not only unsettled me but it also stayed with me after watching, I found myself still creeped out hours later.

I also think another strength of this film that is no less important is the fact that it teaches you more about England, and for those of us that live in Britain that means we learn more about our island and possibly have new places to visit next Halloween. I always enjoy films that can teach me something I didn’t know before and this definitely does that.

Overall, a deeply engaging, creepy affair and definitely one to check out.

Pros.

It teaches you a lot

It is scares

The folklore is fascinating

The pacing is superb

It stay with you

Cons.

None.

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Sabrina: Move Over Annabelle

2.5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

An Indonesian demon doll film.

I enjoyed the originality of the scares on display in this film, and that despite being a doll film which in and off itself is a very played out genre there is some originality here. Moreover, I also will commend this film for the lengths it goes to in terms of its physical effects, though at times you can tell it is very low budget when the demon woman, played by Asri Handayani, is featured you can tell the film is pulling out the stops. The look of the demon woman is constantly on point and well maintained.

However, where this film falls apart for me is that its tone is all over the place, sometimes it is scary and seems like a genuine horror film whereas other times it feels closer to a horror comedy as the campy elements start to play up. Furthermore, the film has awful pacing issues and has no business being on for almost two hours, what makes this especially bad is the fact that the film has several long drawn out flashback scenes that drag on and on.

Overall, though I appreciate the originality, the tone and the pacing issues really stop this film from being in any way above average.

Pros.

The originality

The make-up effects

The scares

Cons.

The pacing

The tone

The performances

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Umma: Mummy Issues

2/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A mother, played by Sandra Oh, and her daughter, played by Fivel Stewart, must contend with past ghosts that arrive after a death in the family.

So I will give this film props for originality, the Korean flavour to it helped to set it apart from a lot of other mother-daughter horror films out there, moreover, the mythology of the film feels likewise fresh and novel.

However, that is where the praise ends, as though there was some novelty to the film for the most part it was incredibly cliched and predictable. I don’t know if it is just because I watch a lot of films, but I could accurately work out from the opening five minutes where this film was going and how it was going to end and it did just that, not a surprise in store.

Moreover, the mother-daughter relationship between Oh and Stewarts’ characters felt like re-treading well worn ground, the relationship added little new to either the genre as a whole or to mother-daughter relationships in general, much like the wider conflict of the film we have seen it before.

Overall, though certain parts of the horror feel fresh it can’t mask the wider feeling of over familiarity and blandness on display here.

Pros.

The Korean inspiration to the horror

It is watchable

Cons.

The mother-daughter relationship

It is generic

It has been done better before  

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Interview With Writer/Director/ Editor Hunter ‘Bueller’ Farris: Found Footage Dracula.

Written by Luke Barnes

I recently had the chance to interview writer/director Hunter ‘Buller’ Farris, about his new film Found Footage Dracula which serves as a reimagining of the classic tale of Dracula. In this interview we discuss Bram Stoker, The League Of Extradentary Gentlemen and the benefits to shooting films in the found footage style. I hope you enjoy.  

Q: What made you want to make this film?

HF: Bram Stoker’s novel was written in a series of letters, journal entries, newspaper clippings, scientific writings, and half-a-dozen other formats, so I felt like found footage was the only way to capture the experience of what it feels like to read the original novel.

Q: What was the message you wanted to get across?

HF: I wanted to help audiences understand what it feels like to be an audience member in 1897, so this film could be an empathy machine and so this film could help us understand that our modern perspective is not the only perspective.

Q: What is your favourite vampire film?

HF: I’m going to be honest, I love the aesthetic of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003). The whole film is this wonderfully rule-of-cool dieselpunk dream.

 Q: Why re-do Dracula?

HF: A lot of versions I’ve seen of Dracula take out some of my favourite parts of the novel, like Jonathan being manipulated by Castle Dracula, the voyage of the Demeter, and the character of Quincey P. Morris. So I wanted to put those parts back in. Also, no one has ever done Found Footage Dracula, and I feel like it’s the best way to capture the experience of what it’s like to read the original novel.

 Q: What benefits do you find to shooting in the found footage style?

HF: Found footage is incredibly cheap, so we could pay all the cast and crew fairly for less than $2000 because you only need 1 or 2 people on set at a time. When your set doesn’t need fancy lighting, or a separate sound source, or PAs, or grips, or a DIT, you can film from anywhere in the world. So I was able to work with people I would never get to work with.

 Q: What do you think your film contributes to the wider found footage genre?

HF: Most epistolary novels are exclusively letters. Bram Stoker’s novel expands that format to everything from invoices to journal entries, to a suicide note! To capture that feeling, I wanted to expand past the traditional form of found footage and use a dozen different sources of videos, like TikTok, Snapchat, podcasts, and even a doorcam!

 Q: Any funny on set stories?

HF: Honestly, I can’t think of much that was funny. Weird? Yes. Comfortable? Yes. But not much funny.

Q: Future plans?

HF: We’re expanding to a cinematic universe, including Jekyll & Hyde as a social media screen movie, Dorian Grey as a juxtaposition of social media and private video, and The Phantom of the Opera as a fictional Making-Of documentary. And eventually, all of those will crossover, inspired by The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

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Found Footage Dracula

4/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

Dracula finally goes found footage.

I have been excited to see this film for a while now, and now that I have I can say it lived up to my expectations. It was both what you would imagine it to be, a found footage film about Dracula but also so much more, I liked that this film was not afraid to do something different with the classic tale and mix things up, I thought the originality was both novel and refreshing.

I thought this film did a lot with its premise and filming methods and managed to be both entertaining and tense throughout. Just when I think the found footage sub-genre has started to dry up for good, something like this comes along and renews my faith in it.

My one critique of the film would be that it felt quite rushed. By that I mean the film could have been strengthened by adding ten or twenty minutes to the runtime as it would have allowed the film to come into its own just that bit more.

Overall, a very novel film that brings you a fresh take on a well-worn story.

Pros.

The originality

Making the most of the format

The performances

Entertaining and tense throughout

Cons.

The pacing had some issues, it could have done with being a bit longer

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1408: Did Someone Call The Hotel Inspector?

4/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A haunted house investigator, played by John Cusack, finally meets his match.

I have been a fan of Stephen King for many years and watched many of the adaptions of his work, however, this one has always slipped through my grasp, for reasons unknown. Upon watching it now I wish I had watched it sooner.

For the most part this is a good haunted house film, the story is suitably scary and the threat feels very real, Samuel L. Jackson does a lot with a very limited roll, and the dated early 2000s CGI effects bring an element of fond nostalgia with them. I would say the film crosses the line into unintentionally funny a few times, but for the most part this isn’t the case.

I saw the director’s cut ending and enjoyed it immensely I thought it managed to nail the tone perfectly between bleak and intriguing, I am aware there are several different endings out there and tried to watch as many of them as I could after watching this film to see which worked the best- I found the director’s cut ending was the best.

My one complaint of this film would be John Cusack. Now, this is only a light criticism but it must be said, Cusack is playing himself here as he often does, if you don’t like Cusack’s shtick then you will find his character irritating and annoying so that may hamper your enjoyment of this film.

Overall, a fun charming horror film.

Pros.

Jackson

The director’s cut ending

The dated CGI

The scares

Cons.

Cusack is not even trying to act here

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The Cursed: A New Breed Of Werewolf

3/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A British hamlet falls prey to a Romani curse and becomes the hunting ground for a werewolf.

This was by no means a perfect film, however, as far as the werewolf sub-genre goes it was fairly competent.

I enjoyed the visuals and the fact that this film held nothing back in the gore department, I also appreciated the originality of the premise and how the werewolf came to be; though I will be remiss if I don’t mention the fact it furthers negative concepts about the Roma community.

Moreover, I thought Boyd Holbrook was surprisingly good here, not only was  he a welcome on-screen presence but he was also trying to act, and though his accent was inconsistent he did give a good performance for the most part and sunk into the character.

My main criticism of the film would be that it has quite bad pacing issues and feels far longer than it actually is. I would not say the film becomes boring, but I would say it comes dangerously close to it several times.

Overall, a fairly decent werewolf film though nothing to write home about.

Pros.

Holbrook

The originality

The visuals

Cons.

Furthering negative stereotypes about the Romany people

The pacing

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Studio 666: Sadly This Isn’t A Breakout But Is More Of A Horror Pretender

2.5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

The Foo Fighters, playing themselves, begin recording an album in a haunted studio,  hijinks ensue.

Now I will preface this coming review by saying I am a big Foo Fighters fan and have been for many years, but even coming from that sort of place this film didn’t do much for me.

My main issue with this film was that it just didn’t work, it had no real reason to exist and didn’t bring either scares or laughs to the table. In the latter regard, the film was both trying too hard to be edgy whilst at the same time also being incredibly tame. It approaches self-parody at times, I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say that this was deliberate, but even then it didn’t go far enough to sell it.

In terms of the scares this film was nothing new some gross out stuff and a gradual growing possession arc, mixed with a few jump scares. Not only was I not scared I was often quite close to approaching boredom whilst watching this film.

Finally, the Foos themselves just aren’t good actors, and though Grohl has been in other films before he never rises above average. It is painfully clear throughout the film that they are all trying to act but failing to do so.

Overall, this film really could have been something but as it stands it isn’t much of anything.

Pros.

It is watchable

There is some charm here

If you are a big fan of the band there are some neat references and nods to enjoy

Cons.

The comedy doesn’t land

Neither do the scares

The acting is poor   

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Gwen: The Horrors Of Rural Wales

2/5

Reviewed by Luke Barnes

Summary

A family in period Wales must try and keep it together in the face of hostile forces, both from within and outside

In many ways, this film wants to be the vvitch, which is evidenced by a lot of thematic borrowing, but it can’t even come close.

This film’s big problem is that you are never quite sure whether it is a horror film or a drama, that shouldn’t be a question that I am still asking even after watching. The horrors of this film come from its incredibly slow pace, which is almost torturous at times, rather than anything else.

That is not to say there aren’t any good scares here, there are one or two interesting scenes that mesh old and new folk horror elements together to create something that feels refreshing, however, the issue with this is that though those scenes are good they are far too few and far between.

Moreover, the ending doesn’t make any sense at all and leaves you going ‘wait what’ which is always a red flag.

Overall, an incredibly slow film that has a few brief moments of promise.

Pros.

A few good scares

Cox

Cons.

The pace

The ending

Is it a horror or a drama

If you enjoyed this review, then please head over to my Patreon to support me, I offer personalized shoutouts, the ability for you to pick what I review next and full access to my Patreon exclusive game reviews. Check it out! https://www.patreon.com/AnotherMillennialReviewer