In the name of all that is blasphemous, satanic and unholy, what in Satan’s asshole did I just watch?
Mark Of The Witch is an ambitious mess of hackneyed gimmicks that might have been salvageable with a proper budget, not just writer/director Jason Bognacki’s can-do attitude. I’m all for filmmakers going rogue and shooting original content, but only within their pre-determined means. Bognacki’s style is marred by atrocious CGI and incoherent storytelling, all of which try to skirt by on the presumption that arthouse pretension trumps any semblance of a worthwhile narrative. And you know what? Maybe it would have without all the fluctuating audio levels, fish-eye lensing and inexcusable animated misfires.
Bognacki opens on robed cultists (presumably witches) who are holding a baby, before transitioning into an overhead shot of a birthday cake that reads the name “Jordyn” (Paulie Rojas). As the happy post-teen celebrates another year, her Aunt Ruth (Nancy Wolfe) jabs a knife into her stomach. There’s screaming, an ambulance takes her away and we fast-forward to Jordyn being stalked by a hooded figure. She begins to hallucinate and starts waking up in random places. Her hair is plucked, an old witch-type controls her through a mirror, and Jordyn struggles with random outbursts of aggression. Aunt Ruth says something is coming, but does not allude to what. A belated present? Death? Maybe the mother who left Jordyn at an early age?
I mean, it’s a witch. Because, you know – Mark Of The Witch.
Let’s start with Jordyn’s story, which speaks through imagery for long bouts of drunken cameraman staggering and distracting waviness. Characters are never introduced, as we pick up with Jordyn at random moments in her life without lead-ins. Case and point – Jordyn discovers her insufferably douchey boyfriend, Donny (David Landry), loudly banging her roommate, Kym (Lillian Pennypacker). Except, there’s no mention of a roommate (or even an apartment) beforehand, and you can’t even tell it’s Donny (I mean, it was Donny, right?). Important plot devices play out through a blurry, unguided view that spins wildly out of comprehension, devoid of any linear ability to string segments together. Good luck keeping up…
Since storytelling is abandoned for some trippy, hocus-pocus sleepwalk down a hellish path, you’d think glamorous style-over-substance cinematography would take over, right? [Insert “Incorrect” Buzzer Noise]
From the very first “blood splatter,” you’ll start a continual eye-roll that doesn’t end until two non-active seniors hug while some intern on Final Cut inserts clip-art flames as a distorting border flare (in other words, there’s a “fight scene”). These are camera tricks you thought were cool in high school (OMG LOOK A FISH-EYE LENS), employed on a level they belong nowhere near. Mark of The Witch is an ugly, off-putting film drenched in neon lights reminiscent of an over-saturated Instagram filter no one ever uses. Inexcusable effects, amateur camera work, zero focus – this one has it all.
Where performances are concerned, audiences are – yet again – mightily let down. There’s no breakout waiting to happen here, and a heavy-handed artistic influence might be to blame. With more importance put on telling a thrilling tale of possessive witches, maybe Paulie Rojas could have embodied a horrific transformation instead of retroactively asking twenty questions after each hazy dream segment. Each character immortalizes an overplayed stereotype, whose hammy existence captures what people negatively visualize when the term “indie horror” is muttered in mainstream circles. No malevolent force worth fearing, no distressed protagonist worth investing in, and sadly, no award-worthy talent.
Have I reached my wordcount limit yet? No? Shit. Fine.
Welcome to Mark Of The Witch, where everything’s made up and the plot doesn’t matter – except it does. Tremendously. Jason Bognacki could go full Gondry or Gilliam if he wanted to, but without a proper story to tell, all that visual stimulation is nothing but diabolical blue balls. Get ready to be left unsatisfied and aggravated, horror fans. This lackluster disaster drives the phrase “style over substance” into a horrifyingly apocalyptic new realm – but, points for following your dreams? I guess?
You know those indie horror movies your indie-horror-hating friends make fun of? That's Mark Of The Witch.