HEX ON THE BEACH
7 WITCHES (15)
Director: Brady Hall
Screenplay: Ed Dougherty, Brady Hall
Starring: Persephone Apostolou, Megan Hensley, Mike Jones
Review: David Stephens
Witches, eh? If they’re not scaring the bejesus out of video documentarians in the forest (“Blair Witch”), getting mediaeval on the asses of puritans (“The VVitch”), asserting their femininity over weak-minded men (“The Love Witch”), or sending out flying monkeys to terrorise pig-tailed adolescent girls from Kansas (ah, come on!) … then they’re being sexy or funny (or both) on long-running US TV shows. “7 Witches” may sound like it could be a show on Nickelodeon, or a new franchise inspired by the super-hero trend. (NB: In fact, there is a 90’s heavy metal band and an anime’ sharing that name if you’re inclined to look for them). But it isn’t. Obviously. Instead this is a Lovecraftian tale of a dysfunctional family, meeting for a wedding celebration in a remote location where nasty shenanigans are afoot. It’s directed and co-written by Brady Hall, who made the urban drama “Scrapper” (2013). The film was just released in a few select theatres in the US, and is followed by a home entertainment release, being available through Video-on-demand and on DVD from May 9th onwards. So YGROY magics up a preview screening and takes a look to see if we’re talking boomstick or broomstick…
In a sepia-coloured credit sequence we’re shown a group of farmers and young girls being mercilessly gunned down by masked figures in a rural and wooded setting. The clothes and weaponry indicate that this is not modern times. Moving the focus to here and now, we meet Kate Boyle (Persephone Apostolou) who is en-route to a location near Seattle. She’s due to meet her (nearly) estranged family for a wedding celebration for her entitled sister Rose (Danika Golombek), who’s getting married to her girlfriend Aggie (Megan Hensley from the recent “Chupacabra Territory”). Kate is being given a lift by her clingy ex-boyfriend Cody (Mike Jones) who, unbeknownst to her family, she has just split with and revoked their engagement. Cody still inveigles himself an invite though, so despite some familial bickering they all move onto the venue for the nuptials. This turns out to be some bleak holiday homes adjacent to a deserted army base, overlooking the remote shoreline of a lake where the unorthodox ceremony is due to take place. Barely tolerating the circumstance, Kate is shaken by the appearance of her imminent in-laws (who look like a Goth branch of the Amish), and some strange occurrences and sights around the lake. It looks set to be not such a happy occasion after all…
7W is stylish and visually arresting, in the way that only well-directed Indie horror seems to be able to capture. It’s actually reminiscent of the genre work of Lawrie Brewster (“Lord of Tears”/”The Owl Man”) and Chad Crawford Kinkle (“Jug Face”). The opening sequence is superbly rendered, with slo-mo sepia and a whole lot of dread. It’s also matched by a number of other scenes during the film that are expertly framed and contain some stunning cinematography, which is quite some achievement on the budget. Streams of crows fly behind the heads of characters, and black-dressed figures are silhouetted against a steel sky and grey water. The scenery (presumably Washington State) is used to maximum effect and evokes some real gothic atmosphere.
The proceedings are also accompanied by a very strong (and thudding) soundtrack, which adds an extra chutzpah to the events (especially the more event-heavy second half). It greatly helps that the score and scenery provide such a foreboding aura for the narrative. There’s a wonderful bleakness that infiltrates the sequences; food preparation resembles queasy autopsies, an artfully edited sex scene feels uncomfortable for several reasons, and a climatic shot in the water has some great impact on an emotional and visceral level.
Despite that generic title, 7W doesn’t play around with niceties. The final act gives way to some bloody grimness, and there’s room for some cold-as-ice psycho actions (including one “granny” character who could give Jason Voorhees a run for his money in stalking intimidation). To offset the blood-letting, there a few surprisingly amusing snarky one-liners uttered by Apostolou (“All it took to get us together was a hook-up with the Addams Family”) and also Macall Gordon (from “The Man in the High Castle”) as the smartly-cynical-but-always-stoned Aunt Paula (“You don’t know what it’s like!”, “What? Having a stick up your ass?”). Both are tremendously endearing and satisfyingly less self-serving than the other characters. And if some of the periphery characters don’t have same impact as the leads, the odd zinger still finds its way to them (“He’s told me the intricacies of collegiate football”).
But overall, the film mostly succeeds as a dark take on family gatherings and a seriously creepy slant on offbeat “celebrations”. It’s a short-but-sweet affair and certainly does not outstay its welcome.
If truth be told, the layers of vagueness are a bit frustrating at times and the motives and reasoning for incidents often remain a barely outlined mystery. Even that title is pretty misleading with the underlying theme. (NB: Don’t expect any “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” moments here). Instead much of the mythology and “witchcraft” is relegated to Lovecraftian hints and murderous acts. And arguably, once the plot veers towards a more conventional “thriller” angle, the subsequent denouement feels a bit rushed and a little anti-climactic in terms of the previous build-up.
However, those are minor details to dwell upon. And even if the sum total of the plot is slightly less than the effectiveness and visuals of some of the sequences themselves, this is still a great-looking Indie horror that casts a bewitching charm over you. It captures that inherent darkness and sense of dread, which so many big-budgeted horrors fail to nail. It actuality is a very well-constructed experience, with several scenes that will stick to your brain, like chewing gum to the underside of a diner’s table. A nice surprise and a movie that we don’t need to spell out 7 times that we liked it. Recommended.