Beyond the Woods (2018)

Release Date: 5th February 2018

Running Time: 82 minutes

Language:  English

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Independent horror fans will savour Sean Breathnach’s feature length debut as a group of friends face some mysterious happenings after a sinkhole opens up near their isolated holiday retreat.

Filmed on location in Ireland, Beyond the Woods sees seven friends gather at a holiday cottage. Undaunted, if a little nauseated, by the smell emanating from a nearby sinkhole they set about enjoying the weekend. As drink and drugs flow, the group of thirty -somethings settle in for a weekend without mobile signal and internet, and the sinkhole remains an unvisited, though pervasive threat. Soon though it is affecting the groups behaviour – an ill-advised threesome threatens friendships and one of the group goes missing next morning. Before long the slowly diminishing group are facing a far greater threat than the smell.

Beyond the Woods

This budget supernatural horror takes a while to find its feet but after a slow and patient opening Breathnach is soon deftly ramping up the tension as increasingly bizarre happenings add to the feeling of unease established at the outset. Here it’s worth commenting on the simple plot devices used to establish the tension, for example mud and ash trails are found outside the bedrooms repeatedly, and mirrors are used several times to offer to hint at supernatural happenings. It’s easy for budget horror to stray into clichés, and while Breathnach uses well established horror devices such as “stalker” camera angles through leaves and sudden power cuts, they’re not over used. Although there are gory moments it’s the unseen that creates the terror here, and the film is better for it.

This is a compact and well crafted horror film that deftly ratchets up the tension to breaking point, recommended viewing for horror fans everywhere.

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I Am Not a Witch (2017)

Release Date: 20 October 2017 (UK Release)

Running Time: 92 minutes

Language:  English, Bemba, Nyanja and Tonga

 

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Rungano Nyoni’s debut I Am Not a Witch offers a bold, satirical take on witchcraft in modern Zambia.

The film opens with a glimpse of a Zambian “Witch Camp”: the “witches” sit in rows with white painted faces, while white tourists arrive by bus and view them like animals in a zoo. The surreal fact that such camps do exist in modern Arica provides the material for the film.

8 year-old Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is accused of being a witch, her crime as minor as being present as a local woman falls over, dropping the water she is carrying. As the police interrogate the witness in front of gathered mob her story is backed up by a man claiming Shula cut off his arm with an axe – the fact this happened in a dream explains away the fact he still has both arms.

Mr Banda (Henry BJ Phiri), a corrupt Public Official, soon gets involved in Shula’s case and, having given Shula the option of confessing her witchery or be turned into a goat, she finds herself tied to a spindle by a long white ribbon like with other witches and working in the fields. Banda quickly turns to using Shula as a supernatural judge and jury in the solving of crimes, making a tidy profit for himself and earning gin for the witches. An enterprise both sides benefit from, aside from young Shula who faces harassment as she moves from village to village.

As the mainly mute Shula, a self-assured and confident Mulubwa plays it absolutely straight, despite the obvious satire being portrayed. The cinematography plays over ribbons and dry earth as a gentle counterpoint to the satire, ensuring the serious subject matter being portrayed isn’t overly ridiculed. One minor misgiving is that sometimes lingering a fraction too long, stretching contemplation into langour.

Clearly witches don’t exist, but here the film offers just enough room for doubt as the film nods towards a surreal, supernatural edge; albeit such belief among the protagonists is often reserved for getting rid of unwanted elements of society, namely elderly relatives, as opposed to a sustained belief system.

Phiri’s clumsy portrayal of clownish Mr Banda doesn’t sit comfortably but Muluba’s clinical performance, perfectly placed satire and camera offer much to enjoy throughout. Chaotic, original and brave this directorial debut offers much to be excited about.

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