Salem Horror Festival 2021: Two Witches

A clever structure makes this witch story all the more compelling.

Synopsis: Witches don’t die before leaving their legacy.

There is a willingness in Two Witches to throw everything at the screen and while that willingness won’t work for everyone, it is commendable nonetheless. Witches in horror go through various stages of representation, from the ‘is she or isn’t she’ ambiguity of films like The Witch, teenage experimentation in The Craft to the overtly sinister in the likes of Suspiria. Two Witches arguably feels closer in tone to something like Drag Me To Hell, with loud noises, gurning and gore taking a leading role.

The structure of Two Witches is an interesting one, constructing itself as an anthology (told in chapters, as is the trend) made up of two stories that interconnect as well as further teases to further entries into that world. It is an ambitious move, but the handling of each section allows director Pierre Tsigaridis (sharing writing duties with Maxime Rancon and Kristina Klebeto) to show their capabilities in establishing characters and situations with precise efficiency.

The first section features Sarah (Belle Adams) as a woman whose recent pregnancy discovery has arrived with a side order of extreme anxiety. Boyfriend Simon (Ian Michaels) dismisses her concerns for the most part, electing to take his clearly spooked partner to visit friends Dustin (Tim Fox) and Melissa (Dina Silva). Continuing with their sequence of poor decisions, the quartet indulge in some spooky pursuits and things, unsurprisingly escalate.

That first section contains a lot of the jump scares of the film, but balances this with shadows moving in the background and a genuinely oppressive, unpleasant atmosphere that is well earned. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes and admittedly, as someone who isn’t as keen on jump scares, my patience was tried a little. For me, the part that shines is the early parts of section two, featuring Masha (Rebekah Kennedy in a very strong performance). Kennedy has more than a little of the Sissy Spacek’s about her, allowing her to effectively play with the nuances of the character, switching from vulnerable to dangerous within an instant. This segment picks up on a far more interesting exploration of witches as a legacy, with power craved rather than objected to.

The over reliance on shots of women in various stages of facial contortion does become tiresome, even when interspersed with the gorier imagery and character development. It feels like a bit of a shortcut that the film takes too often and this loses the impact. Still, this is a film that is practically decadent with its horror images and some of it will likely test even hardened viewers.

If you are looking for something noisy, unsubtle with an interesting take on witches, Two Witches is definitely worth your time and attention.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

For more information on the Salem Horror Festival please see their webpage.

Salem Horror Festival 2021: What Happens Next Will Scare You

A tour through the weirder side of the internet that makes the most of its concept and resources.

Synopsis: Working late on their Halloween feed, a motley crew of internet journalists share their top thirteen scariest viral videos, but when an early entry curses our snarky hipsters, they must distinguish fact from fiction before a tidal wave of terrifying supernatural activity leads to real-life murders.

The last film with a clickbait title I watched was 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot (I believe the film has now been renamed for brevity’s sake as I’m pretty sure it also had a further extension of the title into Number One Will Surprise You or something similar) so What Happens Next Will Scare You had plenty to live up to in those terms. What we get over the course of a relatively short runtime is a mostly effective skewering of internet tropes and the scares promised too.

What Happens Next Will Scare You deserves a great deal of praise for the way it handles the movement through different internet aesthetics to showcase the viral videos. Constructing the perfect mean girl vlog, grainy VHS recordings and dimly lit dashcam footage to name but a few means all the videos feel distinctly different and as a result, allow the film to have more fun with the format. This follows an opening sequence consisting of a collage featuring links and clickbait headlines that escalate in their strangeness. It evokes that feeling of stumbling into an internet rabbit hole, sent to stranger and stranger videos. While it does occasionally take the easy way out (there is a screamer gag here early on, for those who struggle with that kind of thing), it does so to further its observations of online culture.

Within that online culture, it looks at the creation of new content, but also positions the internet as a space for found artefacts – previously forgotten videos and curiosities that when divorced from their wider context tend to take on even more sinister qualities. While this is a film primarily focused on trying to have fun with its scares, its treatment of online culture and related media gives it a little extra weight.

Some performances occasionally feel flat but this is more a consequence of not spending that much time with the characters themselves, meaning performers have less time to make a mark, as opposed to having to react to the videos in fairly quick succession. Crowding the space with so many performers when factoring in those featured in the videos does make it difficult to connect on a deeper level, but that is a small complaint when the star is the treatment of the internet and the ability to cram in as many different kinds of scares as possible.

Overall, this is a film that manages to echo the culture it seeks to represent, despite limited means (and sometimes these limits are a little too visible) and has plenty of fun and jolts along the way.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

For more information on the Salem Horror Festival please see their webpage.

Salem Horror Festival – 6:45

An inventive and disturbing time-loop horror.

Synopsis: What if one of the best days of your life suddenly turned into your very worst nightmare? And what if you were forced to relive that same day again and again?

The time loop concept is one that (fittingly enough) often finds itself repeated in film, spanning genres with each new release building upon and subverting the tropes of the entries before it. 6:45 has all this history and layering built in, including a consideration of the gendered differences in these films (men experience and navigate the loop, women are often manipulated as a result of the repetition) and by presenting a sinister threat to the couple, exploits this legacy to incredibly disquieting effect.

Bobby (Michael Reed) and Jules (Augie Duke) are a passionate but troubled couple, taking some time away on Bog Grove, an island where Bobby grew up. The pair seek to put their recent differences aside and enjoy their holiday. Despite those tensions and an early morning alarm that neither recalls setting, they do manage a near-perfect day until the pair are brutally attacked by a hooded stranger. As Bobby wakes at 6:45am he realises they are on track to repeat the same day over and over.

The time loops within 6:45 are handled in economical fashion, avoiding too much repetition of near-identical scenes, instead having Bobby come to terms with what is happening relatively quickly and setting about trying to change things. Director Craig Singer utilises multiple scenes playing out in collage fashion, building the layers of their relationship up to the trip as well as the loops within it, allowing for a texture to develop without the need to offer too many flashbacks that would risk interrupting the flow. It is a clever move that plunges the viewer into the chaos the relationship so often presents. That the first day plays out in greater detail allows for the solidification of their relationship and how the pair work together. Reed and Duke have excellent chemistry, which is difficult when they have to move from passionate sex scenes, arguments, enjoyment of one another’s company, all with an underlying tension that never feels far from the surface. Both performances feel organic, which offset a few larger, more variable performances from some supporting actors, but as the focus remains on Jules and Bobby those moments don’t detract from that core relationship.

As the narrative continues there is a tendency to draw proceedings out a little too long and it loses much of its forward direction. That this happens as the film takes a far darker, more hard-hitting turn is unfortunate, leading to a period where the film wanders, seemingly unable to find its footing. When it does find itself again, it does so with considerable impact with a tonal shift that won’t be for everyone, but justifies itself well enough and more importantly, sets itself apart from other takes on time loops. The sense of threat is well realised throughout with the presence of the hooded figure never far from the couple in a development that prompts the viewer to continuously search the frame. The coastal scenery features heavily, drawing on the quietness of the area to enhance the isolation and co-dependence of Jules and Bobby.

An impactful study of a tense relationship, supported by dedicated performances that allow the narrative to explore much darker themes and stand out more as a result.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

6:45 played as part of the Salem Horror Festival. You can check out more about the festival at their webpage. For more information about where you can see 6:45 see the film’s webpage.