There has been a huge proliferation of independent horror films in the last few years. Indie darlings like It Follows, The Boy and Creep have proven that the genre is not only ripe for experimentation, but also a fantastic starting point for new filmmakers with unique and unconventional ideas. It also happens to be a place in which some of the worst cinematic drek can spawn from. Sadly, Mark of the Witch, an independent horror film that prides itself on its complete disregard for plot, characterization or a basic three-act structure, is yet another example of just how bad a poorly written horror movie can be.
Directed and written by Jason Bognacki (The White Face), Mark of the Witch follows a young woman named Jordyn (Pauline Redding) who inexplicably learns that she might be the daughter of Satan. Haunted by horrific visions and dreams, Jordyn eventually finds herself immersed in a dark underworld of demonic possession, desire, and extreme sexual indulgences.
Trying to make sense of Bognacki’s Mark of the Witch is an exercise in futility. Though appearing to be heavily influenced by Italian thrillers and horror films like Suspiria and Cannibal Holocaust, with its hyper-stylized imagery and cinematography, the film is almost completely incoherent. The most stunning thing about Mark of the Witch’s is that it’s not even a film at all, but a collection of random scenes and images seemingly thrown together with no sense of narrative structure in mind. To put it simply, the film barely has a beginning, middle or end, and thanks to some truly awful editing, trying to make any sense of how one scene leads into another is all but impossible. Instead of telling a coherent story, the filmmakers opt to concentrate on the visual aesthetics of a scene, throwing in as much sexual imagery, slow-motion and lighting effects as they possible can. In the end, these “artistic” choices add absolutely nothing to the film, and only further drive home the fact that little attention was paid to the story or the characters.
The film’s cast is also quite bad, and thanks to some groan-inducing dialogue, any scene that was meant to inspire dread comes across as either laughable or boring. The script does no favors for Redding in particular, and even when she’s not constantly stumbling or awkwardly pausing throughout her dialogue, she’s barely given anything to do. Most of her screen time is spent staring wide-eyed at her dream-like surroundings, as if she too is lost in the demented narrative that Bognacki has concocted.
Despite its awful story and performances, the film’s greatest failure is that it’s barely a horror movie to begin with. There’s nothing particularly scary about what’s happening to Jordyn, and Bognacki’s choice to concentrate on creating a muddled, otherworldly atmosphere completely stifles any sense of foreboding. Coupled with some truly awful CGI effects and a frustrating ending, Mark of the Witch fails at everything it sets out to do, proving itself to only be an 80-minute exercise in testing one’s patience and tolerance for pretentious filmmaking.
Arbitrary Rating: 2 out of 10 David Lynch fever dreams.
Mark of the Witch will be available on demand June 6, 2016.