A stylised prologue bears witness to a child being born among a coven of figures hidden behind pointy black masks. A raven observes as the child is tended to by the cult's leader.
Fast-forward 18 years, and we meet pretty brunette Jordyn (Paulie Redding) on her 18th birthday. She's flanked by Aunt Ruth (Nancy Wolfe), boyfriend Donny (David Landry) and best pal Kym (Lillian Pennypacker) as she blows out the candles on her cake and makes a wish. It's at this point that sinister Ruth reminds Jordyn of how her mother died giving birth to her, and then begins hollering "It is time" repeatedly before taking a kitchen knife and ramming it into her own stomach.
The party, as crappy as it was, is ruined.
As Ruth is carried away by medics on a stretcher, Jordyn declines Kym's offer of a lift home and decides instead to take a midnight train ride to clear her thoughts. While deep in pensive mode, she's sure she felt someone - or something - snip off a lock of her hair. Oh, and is that a raven she keeps seeing in her vicinity?
Before long, Jordyn is suffering from increasingly nightmarish visions and start receiving unwanted visits from a mysterious Latin-spouting figure (Maria Olsen).
Could it really be that Jordyn is the devil's spawn? And if so, what will she choose to do about that - succumb to her evil destiny, or seek a more righteous path to redemption?
Having previously directed several shorts, MARK OF THE WITCH - or ANOTHER, as it was originally entitled - marks Jason Bognacki's feature debut. Despite being only 76 minutes in length, it's certainly an ambitious maiden venture.
It's a film that relies on a dreamlike vibe to its storytelling, with script and performances being so secondary to the visuals and ambience that it almost seems redundant to comment upon either. Which is a stroke of luck, as the acting is generally piss-poor and the script is - to put it mildly - muddled.
Shades of THE OMEN abound, what with the central theme of a child born unto Satan and the watchful raven that acts as its unofficial guardian. But, rather than being a typical end-of-days horror thriller, MARK OF THE WITCH takes a more expressionistic approach and often recalls the works of Dario Argento - on a visual level, at least. This has led some to erroneously call the film a neo-giallo piece. It isn't, but it does at times share the aesthetic qualities of Argento at his most otherworldly.
Bognacki works with themes of fate and especially duality (the two paths Jordyn must choose between once her true calling has been made apparent to her) but becomes so bogged down with the meticulous set-up of every single composition that he soon loses sight of the yarn he's attempting to spin.
The end result is a tiring, tiresome succession of barely-linked set-piece scenes which frequently look and sound great, but have a nullifying cumulative effect. There's no real story after 20 or minutes or so. We don't care for any of the characters. And the horrible moments of CGI effects rob too many scenes of their otherwise ethereal atmosphere.
MARK OF THE WITCH ultimately feels like a handsome short film that outstays its welcome by being stretched out to a truly endurance-testing feature running time. As mentioned above, the film is only actually 76 minutes in length - but it seems to go on forever.
Metrodome bring MARK OF THE WITCH to UK DVD in its fully uncut form.
The 2.35:1 picture is enhanced for 16x9 televisions, and is a generally excellent proposition. Strong blacks, bold colours and accurate flesh tones combine with fine detail and solid contrast to make for a most pleasing visual playback.
English 2.0 audio serves the rampant sound design and haunting score well throughout.
A static main menu page leads us to a similarly static scene selection menu, by which you can gain access to the film via 12 chapter stops.
Bonus features are meagre. All we get, in fact, is a 9-minute featurette in which the director and cast members speak rather portentously about the film's themes. One deleted scene is mentioned - and there's even a suggestion made that it should be included as an extra on the DVD. Alas, it does not feature here.
The disc is defaulted to open with trailers for THE FALLING, the must-see WHITE GOD and HOWL.
MARK OF THE WITCH is filled with arresting visuals and canny sound design. It feels like a waking nightmare. But it's a victim of its own style-over-substance philosophies and swiftly becomes terribly boring as a result.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Metrodome|
|see main review|