What is it about the woods we find so frightening? Sam Raimi unleashed a flesh-possessing demon into them in his cult ’80s horror The Evil Dead, while The Blair Witch Project trapped us within their disorientating surroundings in the ’90s. Over twenty years later, filmmakers are still taking to the wilderness to provide a backdrop for their scary stories. With The Animation Workshop grad film 100,000 Acres of Pine we’re not thrust into a real-life forest, but a CGI one, as this animated short invites us to join Ranger Megan Patel as she descends into the depth of the woods on a mission to understand the mysterious circumstances around her brother’s death. Halloween might be over, but we’ve got one last “scary” film for you!
“Whenever I come out in these woods, I end up regretting it”
Admitting “unsettling, spooky and mysterious things just set my heart on fire”, director Jennifer Alice Wright’s seven-minute Horror follows Megan as she retraces her brother’s last steps, on the hunt for answers. As she travels deeper into the woods things begin to change and shift around her and soon she finds herself in locations, with no memory of how she got there. Soundtracked by recordings of her sibling’s final thoughts – “whenever I come out in these woods, I end up regretting it” – captured onto cassette tape, 100,000 Acres of Pine feels as much a journey into the mind, as a journey into the wilderness.
Sporting an almost tactile feel to its 3D animation, director Wright (who created the film with a team of 10 other Animation workshop students – full credits in Vimeo description) reveals she was initially drawn to making the film in stop-motion as it felt like the best approach for “capturing that creepy, uncanny valley feeling”. Opting not to pitch her idea as a physical animation, as she believed the rest of her class wouldn’t pick it as one of the films to be made, she instead went for a more digital approach, selling it as a CG animation that replicated the stop-motion style.
“You should be able to look at an object and know exactly what it would feel like if you ran your hand over it”
“Due to the puppet influence I wanted everything to be very textural, you should be able to look at an object and know exactly what it would feel like if you ran your hand over it”, Wright explains and if that was the aim of her aesthetic, they really nailed it. The characters, in particular, have a solid weight to their design, with close-ups on Ranger Megan almost making her look as if she has been carved out of one of the trees from the film’s title.
Fitting nicely into the Eco Horror subgenre brought to prominence in recent years by Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (and more recently the novels The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey and Eden by Tim Lebbon), yes 100,000 Acres of Pine features some kind of supernatural presence, but more so it feels like a film about nature fighting back. What it’s in conflict with (humankind we assume?), is never clear, but like many of the stories of people vs nature that have proceeded it, in this narrative (unlike real-life) the environment is winning the battle.