TWO WITCHES [2021]

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Directed by:
Written by: , ,
Starring: , , ,

USA

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: 17TH OCTOBER 2022

AVAILABLE NOW STREAMING ON ARROW FILMS

RUNNING TIME: 98 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera

Two Witches Collector's Edition

Two linked tales set in a world where not just witches but the Devil herself basically run the show.

1/ The Boogeywoman Sarah is expecting a baby with her boyfriend Simon. However, when ordering a meal in a restaurant, she’s unnerved by a creepy old woman sitting at another table, then haunted by scary visions. Simon doesn’t seem to take this particularly seriously, but her Wicca-like friend Melissa may be able to help….

2/ Masha has recently taken lodgings at the home of Rachel, but is beginning to act rather weird, starting off by attacking her one-night stand who then smacks her in the face and is thrown out by Rachel. Masha’s grandmother was a witch, so Masha might be inheriting some of her powers,  but she’s also becoming obsessed with Rachel and Rachel’s boyfriend Charlie….

Having the Devil be female [no, that “herself” wasn’t a typo] is something rarely done, though it also suggests that Two Witches may adopt a revisionist or feminist attitude to its subject, in keeping with the fashion of our times. However, while it does sometimes suggest that it’s going to do that, in fact Pierre Tsigaridis’s two-part movie [with a tiny prologue and an only slightly longer epilogue] soon shows that, while it does emphasise strong fmela characters, this isn’t something he’s particularly interested in, and actually it’s rather refreshing. Instead, he’s made a film that’s basically only really out to make you feel uncomfortable and frightened. Thankfully se succeeds more than he fails, sustaining a very unnerving atmosphere punctuated by jump scares which usually actually work, even if the over-reliance on this device became one of modern horror’s cheapest habits some time. The two stories do differ a bit, with the first containing far more shocks and some humour, and the second not just being much slower paced but featuring a witch  – or should I say a woman becoming a witch – as one of its two primary characters, but both show Tsigaridis to have real skill in creating screen horror, even if his imagery is often old hat while the writing skill of himself and his screenwriting partners Cristina Klebe and Maxime Rancon alternates between being rather nifty and sadly clumsy. Most of the performances are rather good though, which certainly helps. There should still be a lot for the horror fan to enjoy here, it being very clear even before you watch the special features on this Blu-ray that it was made by horror fans for horror fans – though be warned that some stuff either isn’t explained of is left ambiguous, which I tend to find to be okay in a film like this though others may have wished for rather more clarification of matters by the time the end credits come up.

Things begin with a blurry handheld camera taking in some candles before we realise that it’s the point of view of a very young baby; we then see two of our witches enter [who will recognise them later?], and we realise that they could be there to eat the baby. Perhaps this idea could have been saved for later when it would have had greater impact, but it does now cast a cruel pall over everything. The Boogeywoman begins with Sarah and Simon about to order in a restaurant; in a ritual that’s clearly happened before, Simon asks Sarah to choose the wine but Sarah says she can’t because she can’t drink it, leaving, of course, Simon to choose the bottle that he’s obviously going to have all of. Immediately we’re not exactly sure about Simon, there’s something not quite right there. Sarah is unnerved by this elderly lady in the place who stares at her, disappears than suddenly reappears with her eyes all white. That night she’s plagued by a only slightly seen supernatural intruder, though Simon thinks that all this is just anxiety over her pregnancy. However, when they have friends Dusty and Melissa over for a boozy evening, Melissa, who’s some kind of “healer” who seems to have cured Dusty’s bad back, believes that dark energy is around and suggests they call it up then get rid of it using an ouiji board. Such scenes are almost always tense, though this one has a rather muted climax. However, Melissa now starts to believe that this bad force is angry at her for using the board, while Sarah is behaving rather oddly. Things build well to a pretty intense climax with some very gruesome imagery while, as I’ve already suggested, some of what’s been happening is tied up and some isn’t. However, we’re definitely clear on the fact that witches are manipulating people’s lives, meaning that, as this segment ends, we’re feeling pretty shaken – though perhaps the fact that we may be spooked by a little old lady we come across the next day maybe isn’t too helpful.

Somebody or something moving behind blinds. Demonic hands coming out of nowhere to grab. A swing moving by itself. Several times where we see something but Rachel doesn’t. And so forth. We’ve all seen this imagery many times before, especially in the likes of the Insidious and Conjuring movies, not only is the atmosphere that he’s created very similar but at least three gags are direct copies. Therefore there’s not a lot of fresh new imagery to enjoy except for the very effective makeup on the faces of the witches, but most of these scenes do come off, and of course would have still come off without the obligatory loud musical note to punctuate each highlight. Unsurprisingly we also have the “lengthy sequence when we think something’s going to happen but it doesn’t” and a couple of false scares, but also some attempts at humour which have mixed success. Sarah and us being told that Simon’s friend Dustin is  “into some creepy shit” is followed by a cut to him wearing a Halloween mask which has “real goat horns”, after which he almost becomes comic relief but is actually a bit annoying. However, there’s also a great blackly comic  bit with a severed finger, which may not actually sound funny but just wait and you’ll see what I mean. The witch seeming to wear black gloves like every other giallo killer is a nice touch. The cinematographer is actually Tsigaridis who did loads of duties on this film. The blue/green tinting for night time footage is maybe a bit overdone, but his knack for shooting the witches with odd angles and lots of shadow helps greatly in keeping them frightening. Belle Adams makes for a pretty convincing heroine, projecting fear rather well and holding our attention well enough, and Dina Silver as Melissa has a nice bright presence even though the character isn’t too well written. Much of this still works well as mostly conventional scare stuff. The script almost seems like it’s going to have a good stab at looking at not just fear of pregnancy but motherly apprehension, but basically The Boogeywoman is only out to do one thing and is proud of it.

A flashback to various incidents and characters appeared near the end of The Boogeywoman, and another one exactly the same shows up near the beginning of Masha, perhaps to make it easier for us to recognise characters from part one who turn up in part two, which comes across as rather rude; surely most of us don’t have memories which are that bad? Anyway, Masha properly begins with some increasingly forceful shagging, with the title character astride a guy she’s picked up and getting rather vicious. The girl whose house she’s living in Rachel chucks out the guy because he punched her in the face, after which she tells her “My grandmother used to fuck everyone back in Romania”, as you do. Indeed Masha is nothing if not straightforward. “What does she eat”? asks Rachel of her grandmother. “Baby’s blood” is the answer. Rachel tells her about her ex-fiancee who became controlling and stalked her, then, when she changed the locks and threw her ring out with the rubbish, broke into the house and put the ring back in her bedroom. However, any bonding between the two ladies is short lived, because Masha reckons her grandmother’s powers are starting to be passed down to her. She has a thing for Rachel’s boyfriend Charlie even though she’s never met him, and also turns up at Rachel’s workplace looking for her and pretends to one of her colleagues that Rachel’s nasty experience she told Masha about actually happened to her. Rachel is understandably angry at this and wants Masha out by the time that she returns from her Christmas break at her mother’s house, but Masha is starting to have so much fun doing things like suddenly appearing in a bathroom window. Her favourite device seems to be to seduce a guy then falsely cry assault. The climax of this story is more low-key but is perhaps more upsetting – and then we get a coda which frankly wasn’t really necessary at all, though I guess it’s right that we finish off with the witches, not to mention somebody else.

At first it seems as if the conflict between the unashamedly sex- loving Masha and good girl Rachel [played by co-writer Klebe] who’s envied by Masha for her normal life is going to be the main focus, but this doesn’t turn out to be the case. There have been a fair few depictions of witches who are starting to become actual witches because of adolescence or young adulthood, but the one here is quite unique as well as not quite thought out as well as it could have been. Some of the time we seem to be invited to sympathise with Masha, who only wants to be liked. “People should be good to me” she often says, but people seem to unsurprisingly feel unsure about her the moment they meet her, yet we don’t get enough of a sense of Masha being pushed into wickedness by society’s rejection of her, and the short running time made necessary by the two-part format doesn’t allow for a natural sense of transition and evolvement. Still, let’s hear it out for Rebekah Kennedy who as Masha gives the standout performance of the whole film, being so enigmatic and off-kilter that we didn’t really need the shots where her face contorts, though this section may have the nastiest scene of gore, not because of its gruesomeness but because we can more relate to it; somebody’s teeth falling out. Back from part one are not just its villain but Dusty and Melissa, now seemingly tiring of each other and one step away from a breakup. Again, it seems as if this segment may delve into certain themes, such as male fear of active female sexuality which was one of the reasons for which a woman could be branded a witch several centuries ago, but again Tsigaridis steps back, as if to say “You expected us to go into this, well fool you”! There’s something rather refreshing and innocent about his stance.

Special effects seem to be mostly practical, with the faces of a burn victim and knocking and running over by a car being particularly grim and convincing to look at, though as cinematographer Tsigaridis he has an unfortunate habit of shaking the camera during grisly highlights; surely he wants us to properly see the grue? He also perhaps relies a bit too much on quick cuts to our witches who are far scarier when shown in their house, their faces often partly in shadow or in closeup, as they plot and cast in their Black Lodge-esque abode. On the other hand it’s rather nice to see a director again use the zoom lens so frequently. Gioacchino Marincola’s music score is hugely effective, based largely around portions of two especially golomy piano pieces by Franz Liszt with some unsettling sonorities which sound like unusual instruments being electronically manipulated, while the use of a Romanian folk in two places enhances the unsettling ambience. And that’s what Tsigaridis is clearly best at, meaning that his film, if not quite a low budget gem, may very well cause the shudders. As I was watching it, I thought several times of that appalling remake of Suspiria which dropped every ball, because in a way, despite its many differences, Two Witches is a much more worthy successor to Dario Argento’s classic, meaning that the words TO BE CONTINUED, plus the post-credits suggestion of where a sequel may go, are rather exciting.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

PRODUCT SPECIAL FEATURES

High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
Two Witches is an often fine-looking film, and this presentation scores especially high with its many scenes where darkness dominates. The tremendous witch makeup also shines greatly what with all those closeups.

Original lossless stereo audio and optional 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround audio

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

Brand new audio commentary by director, cinematographer and editor Pierre Tsigaridis
It’s always really good when an audio commentary causes one to respect the film more, and this one certainly did that for me, as Tsigaridis takes us through the film discussing all the creative decisions he made with each scene, alerting us to things like the importance of cutting, which refers especially to a scene where one character is shown just on her own and others are shown together even though they’re all together at a table, and another where the removal and moving around of some dialogue created better understanding of the characters. He also says how he tried to keep reactions plausible, something which he did succeed with. Tsigsaridis doesn’t go much into production but never really stops in a continually interesting chat.

Brand new audio commentary by producer Maxime Rancon
Said afore-mentioned production stuff is more gone into here, beginning with the news that this was shot at the beginning of 202o during Covid. The production was very lucky when a coyote came near the set so it could be filmed, while Rancon was hiding in the cubicle where a slamming door startles us; he was the one who kicked the door shut! The project began over discussions of incidents that he and Tsigaridis experienced that were creepy and could have been caused by the supernatural. In some ways this track is better than the first and both compliment each other with hardly any repetition, though Rancon does leave a lot of gaps.

Behind the Movie, a two-part behind-the-scenes featurette:
Episode 1 [4 mins]
The featurettes, all produced by Arrow, begin with some of the cast and crew discussing things relating to the movie. Kennedy says how she loved her character while we learn that this is “a prequel to a bigger story”.

Episode 2 [8 mins]
I don’t know why this already short featurette has been split into two unequal halves, but anyway it’s great to see Tsigaridis sitting at his desk with some of the makeup effects on it while Rancon only has the finger, and to learn that the script for the sequel has already been written. We also hear that it won two awards and that director and producer are very happy that Arrow are releasing it.

Interview with actor and associate producer Dina Silva [15 mins]
Silva has a nice bubbly personality as she tells of the research she did for her character, may now believe in some things which she didn’t use to, and tells a creepy story where they were filming in a house that once burnt down killing two of its residents. She and another lady heard church bells, but the sound never appeared on the soundtrack. At one point her mother Marina Parodi, who played the main witch, rings her.

The Boogeywoman, an interview with actor Marina Parodi [8 mins]
This curiously opens with shots featuring Parodi as the same character in footage that isn’t in the film. Deleted footage? – though if that was the case surely that could have turned up in its own section? Parodi, who we now learn is Tsigaridis’s brother [this film really was a family affair!] then tells us of several examples of witch legends that she knew as a child, and how she was influenced by not just witches she grew up with but the art of Francisco Goya.

The Original Score, an interview with composer Gioacchino Marincola [12 mins]
Well it turns out I was right in thinking that some of what we hear in the score are instruments played through a computer, with Marincola playing an oboe reed and an ocarina, while showing how the sound of a squeaking window closing was also fed through a computer; all three produce very eerie sounds.

The Piano Score, director Pierre Tsigaridis talks about the inspiration behind the piano score for “Two Witches”s [10 mins]
Here, Marincola explains his inspirations for his score and how he adapted Liszt, to which he even wrote some of the screenplay too. Seeing how film music is a particular interest of mine, I loved these two featurettes about the score, especially when Tsigaridis plays some of the music.

Test footage [2 mins]
As it says, interspersed with the film’s title and the same bit of music over and over again!

Grimmfest 2021 Q&A with Pierre Tsigaridis and Maxime Rancon [30 mins]
This is a fabulous interview where Simrit Cheena-Innis asks Tsigaridis and Rancon as many good questions as she is able to fit in in half an hour, from what was the most challenging gore scene to create [possibly the car death as the fake blood kept freezing in the cold weather] to what would their advice be to aspiring filmmakers [it’s spot on], with the duo giving extensive answers. Their love of what they do is quite wonderful and inspiring. The most interesting thing mentioned is that there aren’t any truly iconic female horror villainesses; I’m not I’d really agree but it’s certainly something to discuss.

Trailer gallery

Image gallery accompanied by the film’s original score

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by?Ilan Sheady

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by?Anton Bitel, plus double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ilan Sheady

 

“Two Witches” has its distinct flaws but is very creepy and jumpy and that should be enough for many in a time when many horror films seem to be trouble doing their job, while I’m interested to see how its creators develop its world. Arrow have given it a first class presentation. Highly Recommended!

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About Dr Lenera 1980 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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