Reviewer: David Gillespie – HCF Official Artist
Living in a rural community has its positives and negatives. The positives are that you have the safety of a close knit group of people and generally have that feeling of belonging that you lose when you move to the city. I grew up in a small village in Argyll and Bute. Perhaps due to my age, I only witnessed the good parts of that community and didn’t notice the sinister aspects that could only be revealed if you scratched the surface. One of the greatest horror movies of all time, The Wicker Man, focussed on the alternative beliefs of a remote, island community. Perhaps the scariest part of this film is the fact that the occupants do not consider the annual sacrifices and pagan rituals as anything other than an everyday occurrence. Even the hilarious, horror spoof Hot Fuzz, mocks the obscene lengths an idyllic village will stoop to keep ‘the safest village in Britain’ tag. Peter Goddard also explores the eccentric and murderous ways of a rural community in his debut feature, Season of the Witch (… not to be mistaken with the god awful Nicholas Cage thriller released in 2011).
Mary Blackwell (Nicki Salmond), her teenage daughter, Alice (Beth Kingston) and younger son, Sam (Dominic Ellis) arrive in the village of Maiden Hollow to clear out the estate of her deceased father. After a frosty encounter with a local couple, they are visited by the local priest, Michael (Tim McConnel). Michael explains that he too is an outsider and the locals are wary of new additions to the community. When Alice asks if Michael is married, he tells her that his wife died in a car smash many years ago. Although he survived the accident, his young wife died instantly. After recovering from brain injuries sustained in the impact he moved to the Maiden Hollow parish as a means to get over the tragedy. However Michael is not fully recovered and starts to believe Alice to be a possible reincarnation of his dead wife. He starts to drink heavily and have bizarre dreams about the young girl. By the time that the village men, Harry (Barry Robbins), Tom (Andrew Ledger) and John (Daniel Coffey) notice something is wrong, Michael has lost the concept of what is real and what is fantasy resulting in tragedy. The villagers respond by dishing out their own sadistic form of justice.
Goddard’s debut feature has been constructed on a shoe-string budget and it does occasionally suffer from technical issues like poor sound quality, lighting and cuts. The cast and script are fine although at over two hours, the story drags. The director manages to capture the suspicious and intrusive nature of a small community to the arrival of visitors. The Blackwell family become the focus of interest in a village where any news is big news. One scene where the son is questioned by a local shopkeeper in return for a handful of sweets is particularly uncomfortable.
When the action does finally kick in during the final third of running time, the results are suitably unsettling and unpleasant. There is enough evidence in Goddard’s work to suggest the director should be one to look out for in the future. He is currently in the process of the final stages of his second feature, Any Minute Now and I’ll be keen to see what he does with a bigger budget.