From the very first frame, writer/director Jason Bagnacki’s neo-giallo Mark of the Witch (formerly titled Another) sets a dark mood and an atmosphere fraught with tension. When you start your movie with a bunch of creepy dudes in black robes performing an occult ritual on a baby in a cave, this sort of thing is bound to happen. Spooky imagery, slow motion shots, an ominous drone, and many more tools of the trade pile layer upon layer of pressure on top of you as you watch. One scene even slows and well-known pop song ever so slightly just in order to disconcert you in a new and different way.
The baby in question is Jordyn, and when she hits 18-years-old, played as an adult by Paulie Redding, she learns a hideous secret about past, her bloodline, and her family. This is all kicked off when her Aunt Ruth (Nancy Wolfe, Helter Skelter) attempts to disembowel herself at Jordyn’s birthday celebration. That is the type of party that you and your friends won’t soon forget. Before she can recover from the trauma, Jordyn sees haunting visions, has terrible nightmares, blacks out and wakes up in strange places, and is generally taken over by an evil she doesn’t fully understand, but that totally scares the hell out of her.
At its best, Mark of the Witch is an artistic rendering of that pulpy giallo style, with a healthy dose of old Hammer horror thrown in for good measure. It’s an obvious imitation of Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and all the other Italian genre innovators. Bagnacki’s color palate and the filters he uses make every frame look and feel like a painting. There’s a marvelous texture that adds an entirely different element to the visual side of the equation. Throughout, there’s very little dialogue, but Redding—who looks like a young Audrey Hepburn decided to make a horror movie—keeps you entranced enough.
Mark of the Witch reaches its peak in the quiet moments, when it is content to be eerie and send creeping chills up your spine. There are witches, covens, curses, a clock that blinks 6:66, and many more unnerving tricks. As it progresses and things ratchet up, getting more frantic and flustered, the constant stylization does become overwhelming.
While the aesthetics are intended to mirror Jordyn’s increasing distress and disintegrating mental state, it occasionally feel like you’re about to have a seizure from the lightning fast edits and flashing lights, and your ears hurt from the overwrought screaming. By the end, it’s apparent that the movie is more concerned with style than anything else, and though surface concerns are important, there has to be something more substantial to prop it up. You need more than just a string of eerie moments stitched together.
Mark of the Witch will appeal to gore hounds and hardcore genre enthusiasts of all stripes, but it’s too specific in it’s homage and references to really cross over to a wider audience. It does co-star horror fave Maria Olsen (Lords of Salem), which may be a plus for some fans out there.
After a strong start, the film comes off the rails and turns overwrought and campy—the good news is that it’s only 80-minutes long, and eight or nine of those are end credits, so you’re never too entrenched. In reality, this is an issue with many giallo films, even favorites of the genre. In that regard, Mark of the Witch is an incredibly authentic recreation of the form, for good and for ill. If this is your wheelhouse, you may want to give it a shot, but unless that’s your jam, you likely won’t dig this. [Grade: C]