Select Page

Panic Fest ’23 Movie Review: A Witch Takes Vengeance in Animated Nightmare “AGATHA”

Monday, April 24, 2023 | Reviews

By GRACE DETWILER

Starring Emily Joyce-Dial, Ryan Whiting, Erin McDonough
Written and Directed by Kelly Bigelow Becerra and Roland Becerra
SoMuch Pictures

While the artistic potential of animation is nearly infinite, the sub-genre remains sorely neglected by horror filmmakers and producers. While classics like Coraline or Perfect Blue have their roots in children’s entertainment and anime, the only recent animated horror features that easily come to mind are 2021’s Mad God and 2022’s The House. Now added to this insular but singular cinematic medium, is Kelly Bigelow Becerra and Roland Becerra’s AGATHA, which screened virtually at Panic Fest this past week. 

Produced over the course of a decade and filmed via DIY motion capture technology in the filmmakers’ own home, AGATHA is an incredible artistic achievement that blends live action, fine arts, and classic animation techniques. While it bears some visual similarities to the world of horror video games, AGATHA is distinguished by its ambitious narrative, presented with very little dialogue. Instead, the focus is heaviest on the film’s imagery, where every frame is quite literally a painting. 

In AGATHA, the fates of two neighbors become entwined after a terminally ill man observes a woman (Joyce-Dial) performing an act of witchcraft in her backyard. While “The Professor” (Whiting) had been planning to take his own life after receiving his diagnosis, the existence of magic gives him new hope, and he begins to pursue the woman as she leads him through a hazy urban wasteland inspired by the Becerras’ own hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut. AGATHA suggests that the witches of this post-industrial town draw their magic from a source of historical trauma within their lineage, which according to the filmmakers, was inspired by the execution of witches by the founders of Bridgeport.

While there is no denying the artistic achievements of AGATHA, whether the film succeeds as a viewing experience will depend largely on the viewer.  Perhaps a product of the animation process or an intentional choice, the entire film is overlaid with a flickering haze of red and grey tones, which can at times distract from the visual imagery and thematic material which AGATHA puts forth. However, the story of AGATHA is an incredibly compelling, circular narrative that creatively answers the question posed by its premise: why would Agatha willingly reveal the source of her magic to The Professor? 

The answer lies in the circumstances of the death of Agatha’s only child, which creates the connection between herself and The Professor. While that motive shan’t be revealed here, Agatha is driven to extremes by her grief, willing even to violate the natural laws of witchcraft in order to punish the culpable party. The dread that builds as AGATHA’s 60 minutes tick down is tangible and leads to a worthy climax – one that pushes the envelope in terms of how gore can be displayed through animated filmmaking. AGATHA will leave you vindicated and unnerved, with a new appreciation for the animation’s capacity for creating effective horror.  

AGATHA (2022) screened at Panic Fest ‘23; wide release information upcoming.

Grace Detwiler
Rue Morgue's Online Assistant Editor - Grace Detwiler (@finalgirlgrace) is a freelance film journalist and law student. Her original work can be found on her blog, FinalGirlGrace, as well as in Rue Morgue's print and online publications.