J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Mark of the Witch: Where Occult and Psychological Horror Combine

Doppelgangers always think the grass is greener. No matter how crummy you think your life is, the uncanny double stalking you will invariably try to take it over. Having just turned eighteen, Jordyn’s doppelganger visions carry additional coming-of-age baggage. She faces a decidedly sinister inheritance in Jason Bognacki’s Mark of the Witch (Another, a.k.a. trailer here), which releases today, the sixth day of the sixth month of the year 2016, which doesn’t really give you 666, but its close enough for marketing purposes.

Be that as it may, Jordyn is about to have the worst birthday party ever. It all really starts to go south when her kindly “Aunt” Ruth tries to commit hari-kari with the cake knife. Shortly thereafter, Jordyn starts having strange sexually-charged waking dreams featuring her friends and co-workers acting distinctly out of character. She blacks out, often coming to in rather inconvenient places. Perhaps most disturbingly, her own doppelganger seems to be trying to seduce her, which could keep a Freudian analyst busy for years.

Eventually, we learn this is Jordyn’s family legacy. Aunt Ruth will try to help her break the chain, but they might be outclassed by the doppelganger. After all, she has done this a time or two before. Unfortunately, the entire experience might just drive Jordyn nuts, regardless of the outcome.

Those are the broad narrative strokes, but Bognacki is really more interested in crafty wildly heady, Giallo-on-acid viewing experience. Sex, violence, ritual, and madness are pureed together on-screen, in deliberate hopes of disorienting the audience. Still, Witch didn’t just spring out of a hallucinogenic bender. Bognacki constantly tips his hat to predecessors like Suspiria, Cat People, and The Omen.

Nancy Wolfe’s Aunt Ruth provides him a key assist in this respect, bringing to mind the iconic horror performances of Ruth Gordon and Zelda Rubinstein. Horror film regular Maria Olsen might do her creepiest work yet as the entity’s primary alternative persona. Paulie Redding, a.k.a. Paulie Rojas, a.k.a. Ana Paula Redding is also rather disconcertingly waifish (if not spectacularly expressive) as Jordyn.

To be fair, this is the sort of film that will overwhelm most actors. However, it is a tremendous showcase for Bognacki’s own skills as a cinematographer. Every frame just radiates malevolent weirdness. Frankly, it is rather impressive how aesthetically ambitious Bognacki gets, without falling flat on his face. Cineastes will find it a highly debatable mixed bag in strictly formalistic terms, but there is more than enough creepiness to satisfy adventurous genre fans. Recommended for horror connoisseurs who are not prone to seizures, Mark of the Witch is now available on VOD platforms, including iTunes.

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