By ROCCO THOMPSON
Starring Duncan Casey, Kitt Alexander Proudfoot, and Samantha Schnitzler
Directed by The Pickering Brothers
Written by The Pickering Brothers
Far be it from me to turn my nose up at hot spellcasters opening throats, but in our post-Robert Eggers’ THE WITCH (2015) era, it’s not beyond reason to expect a little something more from our witchy entertainments. Which is why WICKED WITCHES, the new feature from a filmmaking duo known only as The Pickering Brothers is such a frustrating experience–it offers nothing fresh or interesting for the contemporary viewer, and its throwback appeal is minimal at best.
Mark (Duncan Casey) finds himself broken and homeless after his wife throws him out for cheating and makes his way to Dumpling Farm, the stomping grounds of his youth. He arrives to find his buddy, Ian (Justin Marosa), who behaves strangely but is open to letting Mark stay until he gets back on his feet. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Ian is under the sway of a group of razor-toothed, flesh-munching witches, and Mark might just be their next target.
From its opening strains, WICKED WITCHES does little to set itself apart, defaulting to the sort of flavorless synth music that seems to be compulsory these days for every horror joint directed by a Gen X-er who fondly remembers the 80s. The visuals are slick-on-the-cheap (someone really wanted to get their money’s worth with that rented drone) but The Brothers Pickering make fine use of what they’ve got with some borderline pretty shots of the English countryside and barreling, Sam Raimi-style kinetic camera movements for moments of woodsy mayhem. The directors seem a little too fixated on the back of their leading man’s neck early on, but quickly expose themselves as close-up abusers once the table is set. This is effective in certain moments, but as the film goes on and the screen remains constantly crammed full of faces, it begins to feel stifling in ways one can be sure wasn’t quite the intention.
If it seems that I’m unfairly nitpicking, it’s because there’s not much here to mull over in terms of narrative or thematic tissue. Casey does some solid work and Marosa is so conspicuously creepy that his behavior would raise red flags concerning his mental health even if he weren’t an agent of Satan. The two can’t really sell the fact that they’re meant to be old friends, but the material just isn’t there in the script. The witches (Samantha Schnitzler, Jasmine Clark, and Laura Coleman, among others) are made to glower malevolently, dance provocatively, and look generally sexy in scenes that feel as if they could take a sharp left into pornography at any moment. When they get their claws on the men and the blood starts flowing, things briefly come to life, but one gets the sense that it’s all being played a little straighter than the performances can bear. And is it too much to ask that witches do some actual witchery? They spend a lot of time shrieking and rending limbs, but there’s not much in the way of enchantment beyond the odd basin full of blood, dusty old books (is anyone really still frightened by Baphomet?), and some unconvincing late film flying. All-in-all, it’s a thoroughly unmagical time.
WICKED WITCHES, the uninspired new feature from The Pickering Brothers’ seems to have totally missed the mini-renaissance occurring in witch cinema. With films like THE WITCH, PYEWACKET, HAGAZUSSA, or even THE LOVE WITCH provoking audiences with a more thoughtful handling of the enchantress trope and the emergence of Wicca/Witchraft/Satanism as socially acceptable, Instagram-friendly mainstream religions, WICKED WITCHES feels especially out-of-touch and hollow. Worse, it’s ludicrous without being entertaining: a self-serious foot-dragger that, even at an easily digestible seventy-nine minutes, overstays its welcome. So, form a circle of salt! Shout “aroint thee!” Lose your streaming remote! Do whatever you must to keep these WICKED WITCHES off your hallowed ground.