Three witches awakened by an ancient book, the Necronomicon, bring production of a film in their old family home to a deadly halt.
February 7, 2017
Why does Reel Nightmare: Book of Witchcraft exist? Yeah, I know that’s a bit of an existential low blow. Really, why should anything exist, from a Rembrandt painting to an Ed Wood movie? It’s a snobbish question, but if there is any burden of proof, it should lie with the creators. It shouldn’t be hard to answer. Arthur Miller wrote Death of a Salesman because he thought the life of “the little guy” could be depicted with as much Greek tragedy as the story of a king. The producers of Batman and Robin wanted to sell toys. Neither is inherently evil, but the motivation should be clear.
Reel Nightmare: Book of Witchcraft, written and directed by Armand Petri, putters around for a mere seventy-five minutes, and it never feels like it actually starts. The dialogue is hamfisted, the acting is atrocious, and the plot is a vague nothing. If there’s any compliment I can give, it’s that the lighting gets mildly interesting in the second half. But I’ll get to that.
After an utterly irrelevant opening text about the movie being a “true story taken from a local police inventory” or some such gobbledygook, we’re treated to what can laughably be called the story. Student filmmaker Christian, (Garrett Morosky), wants to shoot his thesis short film in an old Victorian house, supposedly haunted by three witches. He’s aided in his quest by assistant director with-a-secret-crush Sophia, (Madeleine Heil), cocky-but-a-total-hack cinematographer Bo, (Eric Saleh), and extended-cameo-by-the-director Armand Petri, (along with his nigh on incomprehensible accent), as the short film’s producer Hassan.
A bunch of other stereotypes flitter in and out, one of which is Christian’s cousin Patty, (Hailey Chown). Is Christian supposed to be Superman or something? There’s also a flaming gay man straight-out-of-a-nineties-sitcom named Carlos, (played by Andres Mejia Vallejo, with another incomprehensible accent). None of it matters. These characters don’t register as anything more than blips. They’re about as fleshed out as the exoskeleton of a gnat.
But what about the story? There are halfhearted back-stabbings and secrets galore. None of it feels earned. Reel Nightmare: Book of Witchcraft suffers from Cup of Noodles plot. Just add water and all the prerequisites fall into place, (the damn Necronomicon comes into play at one point, because this is totally original, you guys). You’re going to be craving something, anything, an hour later. But even if the story is stale, at least the production quality is good, right? Well, yes and no.
Petri employs a conceit for the first half of the film that we’re supposed to think is clever, but really it comes off as gimmicky. The shots keep switching between the “real world” and the found footage of an iPad, which is being used by the film crew for location scouting. One or the other would’ve been a better idea. Mashing the two together just makes for confusion. Petri also doesn’t do anything to aesthetically distinguish the two, like say black-and-white for the found footage. Characters constantly break the fourth wall, or the sound quality suddenly goes bad, and we’re left scratching our heads over the P.O.V. shift. It’s needless flash, with no substance.
In the second half, things at least settle down to a bearable annoyance. The editing, which was never great, gratefully picks up the pace. Cinematographer John DeFazio chucks the found footage for a Luciano Tovoli approach, à la Suspiria (1977). Primary reds, blues, and greens saturate darkened rooms, with no earthly explanation as to how they got there. It’s a much more satisfying choice, though undercut by its sheer incongruousness with the first half. Almost as if DeFazio just got bored, and Petri didn’t rein him in. Consistency of tone is for chumps, I guess.
Garrett Morosky is horrible as Christian. I know this actor could do better with stronger material, but here Morosky is hopelessly adrift, searching for motivation. It’s pretty opaque as to why Christian is obsessed with filming in the old Victorian house. Is he fond of urban legends? Did the witches call to him in a dream? Is there a familial connection? I feel like this should have been put front and center from the very beginning. In a better script, of course.
Madeleine Heil, as Christian’s assistant director Sophia, is shrewish to the point of annoying. I realize there is supposed to be a feminist undercurrent to her character. Sophia champions women in film and admonishes the patriarchy. She thinks men of the past ostracized the witches because they were actually early female scientists. A potentially interesting angle, but her ideology is treated as a character quirk rather than a serious thematic element. In a way, that is more insulting.
Reel Nightmare: Book of Witchcraft will be released February 7, 2017. It’s not worth a horror hound’s time. Too vanilla to be chilling. Too amateurish to be captivating.