Mark of the Witch, also known as Another, initially saw release in 2014 at London’s Frightfest. It’s now set for a 6/6/2016 release on digital and video-on-demand platforms, with Jason Bognacki’s frustrating and fancy motion picture ready for a whole new audience. The filmmaker writes, directs and shoots every ounce of this stylistic nightmare.
Bognacki’s desire to pay homage to 1970s-era European horror is written all over this film, which essentially amounts to an emphasis on style over substance. Everything is jammed through an effects-heavy sieve to the point that any prevailing imagery is distorted like the opening credits of any given season of American Horror Story.
Paulie Rojas stars as Jordyn and it’s her 18th birthday. She has a few buddies over, along with Aunt Ruth (Nancy Wolfe). Things are going reasonable well until Ruth starts babbling and stabs herself with a knife, proclaiming once more than Jordyn looks just like her mother. The eeriness subsides just in time for Jordyn to go to work at the pharmacy.
More trouble begins when shadowy figures begin to invade Jordyn’s life and she starts behaving in ways she can’t explain. She has sex with John (Michael St. Michaels), the older janitor from her workplace, and can’t remember it. Her roommate Kym (Lillian Pennypacker) may or may not have banged her boyfriend (David Landry) and she may or may not have retaliated.
Much of Mark of the Witch exists in an ambiguous state, which is both to its credit and extremely frustrating. There’s something lovely and hideous about the off-putting visual and auditory storm Bognacki subjects the viewer to, but there’s also a tendency to wander into horror movie clichés. There are black birds, spooky hoods, scary numbers, and so forth.
The sound is particularly interesting, as Bognacki insists we hear it all. This leads to some hysterical C-movie thrills, like when someone blows out the candles and a gust of spittle-fuelled wind waves past. There are also some effectively creepy moments, like when Jordyn’s mom (Maria Olsen) cackles or invokes the name of Jesus in a hate-infused ramble.
But these are but pieces and Mark of the Witch stumbles when it tries to present a cohesive whole. Bognacki’s interested in crafting atmospheric, unsettling material functions to a point, but the approach doesn’t sustain itself over the course of 80 or so minutes. Things do get wild, but an affection for giallo isn’t sufficient when it comes to existing in its own space.
At times, Mark of the Witch veers into silliness – and that’s when it’s most effective. The face-off between Wolfe and Olsen crackles with bizarre CGI fire and a bunch of animalistic snarling, suggesting an absurdist craft coming to life. But these moments fade and Bognacki, certain to pull things back into the scrunched abyss, relents too quickly.
For all the wide-eyed gumption Rojas’ Jordyn brings to the table, there isn’t much to connect us to her as a character. She spends most of the movie blinking between states of confusion and disorientation and the sequences that insist she shifts to the dark side are less than convincing. She is, admittedly, without much to say and that tends to undermine a character’s growth.
Mark of the Witch lacks a visceral sense, despite its visual wrangling, and that’s a problem. While this tale purports to explore a young woman’s descent (or ascent) into some witchy business, Bognacki’s panache distances the audience from the heart of the matter. He moves things in slow-motion, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness, and the story falls by the wayside.
Those looking for a different flavour to their moody horror may find worth in Mark of the Witch, but the lack of solidity and an overemphasis on aesthetic trickery eventually overwhelms. The performances lack strength, the characters lack depth, and the story lacks the initiative it requires to make this exercise worth following through.