witch

The Candy Witch

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For months a family in England has been haunted by a ghost known as the candy witch. A pair of paranormal investigators, a psychic and his girlfriend, agree to try to help the family get rid of the ghost so they can film the events for their online following. Time is running out as the ghost becomes more violent, and the investigators uncover more and more secrets.

The Candy Witch is the latest film directed by Rebecca Matthews (Pet Graveyard, The Watcher 2) and written by Scott Jeffrey (The Bad Nun, The Watcher 2). There are many layers in this film drawing focus to different areas. There is the couple who does paranormal investigations and shares them on social media. Reece, the psychic, tries to use his ability to help people, but it takes a toll on him. There is the family being haunted. They seem like any normal loving family that only wants to be rid of this malevolent presence. Then there is the legend of the candy witch herself. What is interesting about this plot is that the witch who is haunting the family isn’t some urban legend from olden days. Instead, she is the ghost of a woman who once worked for the family as a nanny. As rumors spread about her murdering children, she turned into the mythical “candy witch.” These various subplots come together surprisingly well to create a story with several interesting twists and turns.

While the overarching story in The Candy Witch is entertaining, there are some definite bumps along the way. As I mentioned, I like that the ghost is of someone the family actually knew, taking it away from the stereotypical haunted house scenario. The problem is that the urban legend around the nanny being a candy witch feels incomplete. The rumors about her abusing children and murdering kids makes sense, but there isn’t really any point in time when they explain where the candy aspect came into play in her legend. Despite it never being explained, we see candy often used throughout the film. When we see the candy witch, she is often holding a giant, jagged-edge candy cane and she typically murders people using candy. It unfortunately makes most of the kill scenes comical when they are clearly not meant to be. It’s hard not to laugh when a ghost is killing someone by shoving handfuls of cotton candy down their throat until they choke to death (which I also feel realistically wouldn’t work with how quickly cotton candy dissolves in your mouth).

There is also a vagueness surrounding Reece. We learn about his ability to see and speak with the dead, but that it somehow takes a physical toll on him. Specifically, it seems to damage his ability to hear. We also learn that his father had the same gift. These are all things mentioned fairly early on in the film and seem like they are of some importance, but then never discussed again or resolved. Why does his gift make him lose his hearing? It seems like these are things have some significance, but the audience never gets to learn what the significance is.

Similar to the plot, the performances have high and low points, but generally speaking they are enjoyable to watch. Jon Callaway (The Mermaid’s Curse, Cupid) stars as psychic medium and paranormal investigator, Reece. This character is the most calm and collected of everyone because his abilities give him insight about the dead normal people don’t have. Callaway plays that quite well, but I wish when things take a turn for the worse he would ramp up the intensity, although I suspect this is an issue related to directing more than his performance. Heather Jackson (The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall) plays the matriarch of the family, Ruth. At first, Jackson’s portrayal of Ruth comes across as a bit false. As the plot progresses, Jackson’s performance stands out for all the right reasons and even makes her portrayal of Ruth earlier in the film better. The true standout performance comes from Will Stanton (Silent Place) as Ruth’s son, Tom. There is a sincerity of Stanton’s performance that makes the climax of the film all the more thrilling. The single biggest negative I can say of the cast isn’t related to any performance. It’s that the film takes place in England, yet only one of the main characters/actors is English. The filmmakers could easily have used the same cast and had it take place in the US, especially since the location isn’t significant to the plot.

When it comes to the visuals of The Candy Witch, there isn’t a lot to discuss. The sets are great, especially the house where the haunting takes place. It is a beautiful old estate that feels rich, but is also old enough to feel a bit sinister. It also looks like a home that could easily be in England. The design of the ghost seems very much to be a physical embodiment of the rumors about the nanny. She looks like a stereotypical witch with somewhat greenish skin and warts or boils all over her face. The practical effects to make the witch aren’t the best, but the effects for the wounds she inflicts are fairly well done.

The Candy Witch tries to tell an interesting story, but ultimately can’t overcome the holes in the plot. There is a seed of a good film within Matthews’ and Jeffrey’s work. There are simply too many things set up that either don’t make sense or don’t get the resolution they deserve. The performances are adequate and the effects are decent. Most of the issues with the film stem from the candy witch herself. From her look, to her method of killing, to her origin story, it seems as though the filmmakers cared more about injecting a memorable villain rather than creating a compelling and cohesive plot. There are enough unique aspects of the plot to make it an interesting watch, but too many drawbacks to make it a truly successful film.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10

Blair Witch

Over 15 years ago James’s sister went into the woods to film a documentary about the Blair Witch. Her and the two friends she was filming with were never seen again, but their footage was found showing some unsettling events. Now, a new video has been found in the woods and posted online. James believes it is his sister in the video and that she is still alive. In hopes of finding his long lost sister, James and his friends decide to head into those same woods to try to find her and film their entire experience.

The Blair Witch Project is one of the few films that still scares me, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. This leads me to have pretty high expectations for this latest installment. When I heard that Adam Wingard (You’re Next, V/H/S) was directing Blair Witch, my expectations were set even higher. Taking on a sequel to a very well known found-footage film was quite a different venture for Wingard. After seeing Blair Witch I can say it is the scariest film I have seen so far this year, and it’s all thanks to Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (You’re Next, V/H/S).

The first film focused primarily on the fear and suspense of being lost in the woods for days. It relied heavily on the more subtle kinds of scares that give you goosebumps. Blair Witch focuses much more on big scares and being stalked in the woods by a supernatural entity. There are many aspects of the plot that make this film a great sequel, especially when you consider how many years apart the two films were made. The plot of course reminds audiences of the mythology we learned from the first film, but it then expands on that mythology. We get to learn a bit more about the witch herself, which was very interesting. Along with the mythology, the filmmakers do an excellent job of playing with time. As things unfold it becomes clear that time moves very differently in the deep dark of the woods.

The entire film keeps you at the edge of your seat. As soon as the group enters the woods, the fear and tension only continues to get more intense. I’m the kind of person that has to ball up and cover my ears when watching a terrifying film. I was so tensed up during the entire film, that by the time the credits rolled, my arms were sore. Blair Witch has a lot of the creepy subtle scares like its predecessor, but there are a lot more jump scares and being chased in the woods than ever before. Wingard also includes some claustrophobia-inducing scenes that are terrifying. He does a great job of making you expect one thing to happen, and while you’re focusing on that, something else pops out to shake your nerves. The climax of Blair Witch even goes to an extreme level of scares and surprises that I never saw coming. There are really only one or two things that I can say I thought weren’t a great fit, although I didn’t necessarily dislike them. There is a part of the climax where there are these alien-looking bright lights. I think I understand what the purpose of those lights were, but it just isn’t explicit enough when you’re watching the film for it to make sense. It ends up detracting a bit from the terrifying situation. This film also falls into an unfortunate stereotype involving the order in which characters tend to die in horror films (if you catch my drift) which seemed a bit beneath Wingard and Barrett.

I appreciated that the filmmakers made the decision to cast lesser-known actors for this film, much like in the first one. All of the actors are absolutely phenomenal. The two leads really stand out. James Allen McCune (Shameless) blew me away in what is arguably his biggest role yet as James. His determination and belief that his sister could still be alive is quite touching and something that McCune emotes well through the camera. Calle Hernandez (From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series) is also fantastic. She has some of the most demanding physical scenes in the film, and it makes you empathize with her more than any of the other characters.

While nothing will ever be quite as good as The Blair Witch Project, Blair Witch definitely exceeds my expectations in creating a compelling sequel. This film meets every standard I have for a sequel: great directing, very well written story that builds on the mythology, and everything is bigger (the scares, the technology, the effects, etc). Wingard and Barrett are truly a dream team of horror. It seems like there is nothing they can’t achieve when they partner up. I can’t wait to see what these two do with future projects. If you want to see a film that will curdle your blood, then be sure to run to the theaters to see Blair Witch.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10