Sometimes we watch horror films that aren’t about witches…and I question this decision. Given the history of nonsense persecution for witchcraft, it’s deeply satisfying to imagine the mischief witches would get up to if they really did have dark magic. And, honestly, it just looks cool to see people get turned into dust onscreen every now and then.
Our film this month doesn’t necessarily fit well into the non-award-winning theme, but it did have decidedly mixed audience reactions upon release. Plus…witches.
John Adams, Zelda Adams, & Toby Poser
A mother and daughter who live alone in the woods have a family secret (spoiler: it’s witchcraft).
Back in the day, a woman is solemnly hanged by a group of women and children in the woods. She seems to die initially, but it’s not long before her feet are twitching again, and she’s immune to even multiple gunshots to the head. When she flies into the air in a flaming burst, it seems like a worrying sign. More on that later.
In the present, a punk band mother/daughter duo live in alone in the woods. Izzy, who has an autoimmune disorder, is never allowed in town or around other people. This includes a random hiker walking through the woods who asks Izzy a question…unknowingly related to her own mother’s witchcraft! When her mother (unnamed in the film) discovers this scene, it doesn’t bode well for the hiker, who discovers how fatal the woman’s magic can be. Rather than relishing her power to destroy, Izzy’s mother seems deeply troubled.
As there isn’t much else to do, Izzy frequently wanders around the woods. Eventually, she stumbles across a young woman her own age, Amber. Happy to have a new friend, Izzy begins to break the rules, hanging around other people, using a neighbor’s pool without permission, and abandoning her strict vegetarian diet. It’s after eating a worm that Izzy suddenly falls into a trance-like state, choking Amber and wigging her the fuck out.
Noticing a marked change in her daughter, Izzy’s mom reveals that there is no autoimmune disorder but a very different family trait passed down across generations: witchcraft! The band’s name, Hellbender, also describes the family’s dark magic, some combination of witch, demon, and apex predator. Women in this lineage have self-reproduced for generations, drawing power from the fear of whatever creatures they kill. Izzy’s mother has been working for years to temper the destructive witchy tendencies within. As it turns out, Izzy has not been kept from society because she is ill, but because she may be a danger to others.
Izzy essentially begins witch training, demonstrating perhaps a little over-eagerness to consume animals and test the limits of her power. After time passes and people begin to ask questions about that hiker from earlier and his disappearance. When Izzy and her mother find an increasing number of picked clean deer skeletons in the woods, it feels like a red flag, but her mother simply comments that there’s no moral judgment; whatever happened is in the creature’s nature.
After facing rejection when attempting to make amends with Amber, will Izzy choose to embrace the darkness?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
This isn’t a high budget film–in fact, it’s more or less a family’s passion project as John Adams (Hiker), Lulu Adams (Amber), Zelda Adams (Izzy), & Toby Poser (Mother) are all related. The filmmakers really do their best to make use of limited resources, allowing the creatively shot landscapes to work effectively in creating atmosphere. There are a number of what I presume are drone shots that are stunning, along with scenes where the camera is peeking out from behind trees, waterfalls, foxgloves. I adore how this film looks.
Additionally, the effects aren’t big budget either, but they work well and were genuinely striking and/or creepy quite often.
I appreciated our rather dark ending, though I think a few things being left too vague did prevent me from giving this a full 4 stars. I don’t really understand why Izzy’s mother wasn’t honest with her from the beginning and train her from an early age to manage her witch powers? Some of this would ruin the metaphorical coming of age story here I suppose. However, given that the two lived apart from society anyway, why should Izzy not have known from birth about her powers? I don’t think we got enough of an understanding of Izzy’s mother’s mind to get how & why she made this decision, leaving a pretty large plot hole in my opinion.
Despite this, I was never bored and really enjoyed watching Izzy’s…growth? I’ll be looking forward to the family’s next feature, particularly if there are more witches.