The problem with horror movies is that the line between scary and silly is often a very, very fine one.
Treading over this fine line is often excused by using the description “camp”. But can that be enough? A lot of the so-called “camp” horror movies from the late sixties and early seventies, despite their over-the-top hysterics and lashings of Kensington Gore, are actually still terrifying. In the short behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD the acknowledgement of that sense of “camp” gives the movie (a low budget film which does solid work with its limited funds) full license to pay homage to the saturated colours and sounds of the sixties and seventies. It has a deliberately retro feel which is nicely done.
But sadly at best Mark of the Witch is not terrifying, just fitfully unnerving. And it is, on limited occasions, a bit silly.
On the positive side, it looks beautiful. Absolutely. The filming is wonderfully done. And unusual.
Director, writer and editor Jason Bognacki also provides stunning cinematography, using incredibly tight focus to give a dreamy hallucinatory feel to the whole film. The guiding aim of the storytelling appears to be making us never quite sure of whether the events are actually happening or just being dreamt. And with some of the horrible things our hero, the almost impossibly wide-eyed ingenue Jordyn played by Paulie Rojas, does is when the film is at its most effective. As a study of confusion caused by multiple personality disorder it works well.
The story is a very simple one – many years after being born during some kind of horrible satanic ceremony, a woman reaches her 18th birthday and finds her soul being battled over by the opposing forces of good and evil – her Aunt Ruth, and her supposedly dead mother. (It’s nice to see a film where all the central characters are women). Both forces cause her to question reality. Is it horror or an exploration of mental illness?
We never really find out anything more about Jordyn or her friends, which makes it difficult to care for her when her world enters its dreamlike state. This hallucinatory shift promises a better film, which could be expanded upon in a longer movie. In fact this film is in itself an expanded version of an earlier short film called Another. It was also originally given the same title when first screened at Fright Fest – it’s a title which it has to be said, makes more sense.
Part of the issue is this 80 minute version is not a lot more complex than a much shorter film.
And that’s kind of it. The final battle between good and evil which the movie inexorably and inevitably heads towards is, unfortunately, a bit daft.
With further character detail and story to give us a firmer anchor, the detachment from reality might have had a more disturbing effect. Been scary even.
But visually, it cannot be denied, it looks great.
Mark of the Witch is out on DVD on the 15th February.