By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.
Co-writer and director Brady Hall’s 7 Witches (2017) is a masterclass in ever-darkening atmosphere. Hall’s quietly unsettling, often bass tonal music continuously suggests a sinister cloud of wickedness slowly encompassing the viewer. This can also be said of Mark Meseroll and Will Putnam’s unnerving contribution to the sound department. The creepy morsels the duo concoct frequently derive from the narrative itself. In the classic horror genre tradition, this largely stems from the din some unseen individual makes from afar. It is also heard, and felt from the perspective of the viewer, in the more brutal episodes of violence spied in the labor. Such a statement is piqued by Ryan Purcell’s ominous and grimly beautiful cinematography. Additionally, the variety of increasingly strained character relations, which begin slightly askew and become more aggressive as the ingeniously fashioned plot unfolds, only enhance this brooding orchestration. Hall’s gradual, layer by layer pace assists this element. There is also an equal doses subtle and dream-like manner that stylistically guides the project. Such a veneer weaves these components together brilliantly.
Hall commences his tale with a genuinely shocking and superbly done black and white sequence. It details a colonial massacre. The length of the segment is no more than three minutes. Yet, it leaves a lingering impression. It also mechanizes as an instantaneous expression of the technical prowess of the piece.
As the story moves to the modern day, Hall focuses in on a wedding. It is between Aggie (in a top-notch performance from Megan Hensley), a local, and Rose (in an enactment from Danika Golombek that perfectly balances innocence with underlying trepidation). The latter is a stranger to the area. Almost immediately we note the problems among those who have gathered for the matrimonial celebration. Chief among these is the sibling rivalry between Kate (who is enthrallingly played by Persephone Apostolou) and Rose. The film, especially the initial half hour, wisely utilizes this as a springboard. It is one meant to entertainingly develop these on-screen personas. Simultaneously, it keeps us biting our nails. This is by ceaselessly garnering unease. Such a sensation always appears to be incessantly tightening its malicious grasp around these otherwise mundane events. This impression is pushed into full force when Hall introduces a mysterious group of individuals. They gather with the assorted family members the night before Aggie and Rose’s festivity. The rest of the picture also astonishes in its ability to never lose sight of its sharp eye for its leads. This is while the affair delves further into its eerie, mesmerizingly constructed and imaginative terror arrangements. In turn, the payoff is every bit as satisfying as its buildup.
The deft screenplay, co-penned by Ed Dougherty, adds to the richness of the proceedings. This is as much as the all-around terrific depictions. Mike Jones as Kate’s (potentially ex) lover, Cody, and Macall Gordon as Paula are some of the strongest of these previously unmentioned portrayals. Nancy Frye’s representation of Elanor and Kris Keppler’s embodiment of Anne are similarly incredible. Adding to the charm is Kristine Hawthorne’s superb costume design.
At a mere seventy-one minutes in length, this is a lean, taunt, filler-less moviegoing experience. This Indican Pictures release rivals Robert Eggers fierce full-length feature debut, The Witch (2015), in sheer unpredictability and stark credibility. Likewise, Hall’s exercise is just as chill-inducing. This is even if some of the arrangements of exposition found in the first act are handed via formulaic circumstances. Still, the overall power of the presentation is never diluted. 7 Witches is a knockout. I look forward to whatever Hall does next.
(Unrated). Contains violence, sexuality and adult themes.
Available now on video on demand.
The Facebook page for the project can be found here.