SXSW 2021: 'Witch Hunt' | 'Violation' (Reviews)
Witches, they do indeed be witching. In an alternate timeline version of United States, the concept of witchcraft happens to be very real but it is also outlawed - being a witch is not per se but any act of magic is. Directed and written by Elle Callahan, Witch Hunt takes a look at the issues through eyes of one family; mom Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell), teenage daughter Claire (Gideon Adlon) and twins George and Corey (Nicholas & Cameron Crovetti). They are taking in and hiding witches in their house so they can get to Mexico where witchcraft isn't criminal, this time two sisters Fiona (Abigail Cowen) and Shae (Echo Campbell) arrive to be hidden.
You can either read into the setup very vigorously or just take the film as supernatural horror drama, either way the story is still on a strong footing which is as much as any film could ask for. There's introducing the characters in their natural environments, moral and physical conflict is in the premise, witchcraft offers the action element and concealing witches gives the tension. Whenever a writer can separate different pieces like that, you're on a roll. It also doesn't hurt that the cast works together aptly, especially the youths Adlon and Cowen are terrific in their shared scenes.
Some of the supernatural stuff seems to be and is likely affected by budget restraints so the film could've actually benefitted from developing the conventional horror aspects further. Sure, at least there are more jump noises rather than just plain jump scares but relying on just those and dream awakenings wear you down real fast. One scene at Claire's school (film still above is relevant) actually showed the promise in regards to both world-building and action sequences so you'd wish there was more stuff like that and not just one singular scene. The story offered way more chances to impress.
Smileys: Story, whole cast's performances
Note to self: If you want to end your film festival experience on a happy note or even low-key one, Violation isn't the one to choose. Thanks to similar subject matter and approach mostly, I haven't personally been as afflicted after a movie since 2019's 'The Nightingale' where the feeling of unease lingers around for some time. Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli wrote and directed the piece while Sims-Fewer also plays the lead character Miriam who goes to visit her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and brother-in-law Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) with her husband Caleb (Obi Abili), only to experience a severe sexual assault and following that, renunciation from her sister that leads Miriam to an act of revenge.
Violation doesn't go for the typical revenge tale structure, instead it switches timelines in order to establish some reactions to the events that you're about to see, that makes it also stand out from the pack but the switching is also well executed as it is not all that confusing or jarring which often can be the case. Those transitions also use sound effectively and the sound editing makes the journey even more gruesome, the sexual assault scene also falls to that category as it wisely focuses on Miriam and how she experiences everything through sound, even the camera focuses on her face and hands. Also with so many transitions, the colouring sticks out as both warmness and coldness is beautifully visible through saturation depending how Miriam is feeling at that moment.
As grim and bone-chilling as the film succeeds in being, there are moments where it is much less attentive. The dialogue between the four main characters tends to be rather wooden, actors kind of wait around for the other one to finish their lines like they have never met before which is a problem when two of them are supposed to be family members. LaVercombe is unfortunately the biggest example of this and that's a shame because the character is crucial in those scenes. Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli are quite thoughtful in other aspects such as framing Miriam to be a person with emotions rather than a device so you'd wish that elements around her worked better too.
Smileys: Structure, sound editing, colouring
Frowneys: Dialogue, Jesse LaVercombe