The Witch Files
A group of marginalized young women form a powerful coven.
When one of the stars of the new horror/comedy, The Witch Files responded to my question for a brief pitch – it was exactly as I had expected (based solely on the poster art). The Craft meets Mean Girls.
Now, this may or may not be a description which will whet your movie-going appetite. While I’m aware of The Craft and its cult following, I’ve never actually seen the film (you may post your angry comments below). And, I do adore Mean Girls.
So what was I expecting, going in to the film’s screening at the 5th Annual FilmQuest Film Festival in Provo – where the film had its USA Premiere?
I was actually level-headed about it. Somewhere in the middle ground as far as expectation.
I certainly couldn’t have anticipated that the film would be so multi-layered, genuinely entertaining and with a lovely beating heart, surrounded by the themes of friendship and loyalty.
Who’d a thunk it?
Put quite simply, I LOVED this film.
Five mismatched high school girls – Claire, the nerdy one (Holly Taylor), Brooke, the shallow and rich beauty (Alice Zeokolski), Jules, the goth-chick (Britt Flatmo), Greta, the athlete (Adrienne Rose-White ) and M.J., the scaredy-cat (Tara Robinson) barely know of one another’s existence, until they all end up in detention together. It’s there that they learn of Jules’ abilities in witchcraft. Out of curiosity, they all meet at a location in the woods – where there has been a long history of the black arts in their small New England town. They bond themselves, become a coven and begin to take advantage of their new powers. But as time goes on, a mystery presents itself, and will start to take a dangerous toll on this newly-minted friendship.
As the film progressed, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of special effects (not a dis, it’s just such a character-driven piece), but when the climax comes-a-callin’, and our five young witches have grown more comfortable in their new witchy-skin, there will be no shortage of magical lightning bolts, bubbly shields and invisibility. It’s all handled with great care – never allowing the audience to see the potential seams of the visual effects.
The film is found footage. Claire is an audio-visual geek/school reporter, so she has a camera on-hand at all times. And with the addition of security-cam footage (in the school and on the city streets) that is how the film is presented. While found footage has fallen out of favor from my audience stance, the use of it here rarely bothered me – probably because for the most part – it felt justified. A rare feat in and of itself.
But even with the film’s great production values… at the center is what I would consider my favorite piece:
It’s no secret that I am constantly judging films based on what I’ll term here as “the care factor”.
And watching the girls find one another, seeing them acknowledge their commonalities and then watching their bond unfold on-screen, was a truly joyful experience. It didn’t feel rushed. It didn’t feel overly-expository. In the words of Goldilocks, it was “just right”. This is what good writing is all about. The story’s trajectory and the initially apprehensive “getting to know you” stage of the girls – is organic.
And in a film about supernatural craziness and witchcraft – organic is the biggest compliment.
In my mind, it’s nearly impossible to create a perfectly-balanced ensemble cast. I didn’t feel cheated on character histories for any of our five leads. And to care for them all in equal manner – all within a 90-minute run-time? Unheard of. Serious props to writer/director Kyle Rankin and writer Larry Blagmire for beautifully defying expectations (and for the impressively snappy dialogue – “sandpaper tampons”).
I mean, with my description of the girls above (can we say cliché?) – it’s amazing to take those high school archetypes and to then go well below the surface. Obviously, that was the point – but man – it was so well done.
These are well-developed, sympathetic and interesting characters. And each of the leads is simply fantastic – taking the already strong script with which they were provided and bringing the characters to rich, authentic life.
When I asked the actors about the power of their on-screen bond, I was told that they only met the day before shooting. They were flown to Maine (where the film was shot), did a table read, hung out in Rose-White’s hotel room that night, listening to Beyonce’s Lemonade – and then the next day, began shooting. With no previous mutual history – and to have such a palpable attachment to one another in the film – that my friends, is known as movie-making kismet.
I was equally enamored with the supporting cast. Many times, in an ensemble, there will be weak links. And in such a large cast like this – it’s practically inevitable. But from Claire’s father (Dale R. Simonton) to Detective Strauss (Criminal Minds’ Paget Brewster) to teacher Mr. Dwyer (Greg Finley), every performance felt like we were watching real people.
It’s a clear case of “never judge a book by its cover” or “poster art”, rather. Even with my aforementioned “level-headed expectations”, that poster art provided what appeared to potentially be a shallow, CW-esque supernatural teen-romp. But The Witch Files delves much deeper into interesting themes and paired that up with exceptional production values, solid writing and beautifully-realized performances.
As I pondered the finer points of the film – post screening – I realized that my initial, intended 4-star review wasn’t quite enough. Thus we have a far prettier, much more solid (and deserved) 4.5-star rating.
I hope you find the same ecstatic joy I did, when you see the film. It’s a winner!
The Witch Files is nominated for multiple awards at this year’s FilmQuest. These include: Best Actress in a Feature – Holly Taylor, Best Supporting Actress in a Feature – Alice Ziolkoski, Best Supporting Actress in a Feature – Britt Flatmo, Best Ensemble Cast for a Feature, Best Editing in a Feature, Best Visual Effects in a Feature.
As those who follow my FilmQuest coverage know, the festival has what they term “secret nominees” in many of the awards categories. On closing night, at the awards ceremony, those “secrets” are revealed.
Now for my movie-going money, I think the film deserves nominations in these categories as well: Best Feature Film and Best Feature Screenplay. Let’s hope the power of witchcraft (and me wishing really hard) helps the film find these additional nominations.
The Witch Files is still making its way across the festival landscape (via broom?), so if you’re interested (you should be), use your divining rods to seek out showings in your neighborhood.
This Just In! The film will be available on iTunes beginning October 9th!