What’s the most horrible thing a film can open with? If you said a witch eating a baby, then you’ve probably already seen director Pierre Tsigaridis’ instantly shocking feature Two Witches. I, for one, admired the boldness of bringing the Grimm fairytale version of witches back into the horror spotlight. The film, set up as two loosely connected stories, plunges its audience right into the middle of a Drag Me to Hell scenario for restaurant patrons Sarah (Belle Adams) and Simon (Ian Michaels). After recently pregnant Sarah receives the “Evil Eye” in a restaurant from a lonely woman (Marina Parodi, known only by her chapter card introduction as “The Boogeywoman”), she becomes convinced that the woman has hexed her.
Within the first ten minutes of Two Witches, Director Pierre Tsigaridis has set the tone for what to expect from the film. Witches lurk in the dark corners of expectant mothers’ psyches and wait for an opportunity to feast on their children, at times making the film audaciously unsettling. Simon and friend Dustin (Tim Fox) play these far-fetched notions off as pregnancy brain. Still, Sarah can’t shake this supernatural feeling of heightened awareness that medium Melissa (Dina Silva) defines as the feeling of “being threatened.” Sarah’s feelings remain invalidated in the eyes of Simon, Dustin, and Melissa, who attempt to contact Sarah’s bad energy through a Ouija board. Of course, that leaves a devil’s playground worth of ideas for the film’s writers Kristina Klebe, Maxime Rancon, and Pierre Tsigaridis to have a lot of fun in the dark, candlelit house.
The actors do a phenomenal job of puffing out their characters to fit three-dimensional space, especially given the quick pace of Two Witches storytelling. “The Boogeywoman” chapter flies by without an extra moment to exhale. Spinning scares in practical forms of shadow play and makeup effects that feel notably inspired by James Wan’s Insidious and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. There’s also a wonderfully claustrophobic sequence of Simon making his way down a hallway lit only by a lighter. The flicker of the light and the sharpness of Simon’s breath provide a harrowing soundtrack made even more distressing by background whisper effects and the sharp, stringy score of Gioacchino Marincola’s score.
The second story I found harder to immerse myself in. After experiencing the roller-coaster terror ride of the first chapter, the film slows up for a second in order to introduce a handful of new characters. It’s welcomed at first as the audience has a moment to catch their collective breath, but because the story doesn’t sink its teeth in the same way as the first, the downtime feels a bit longer than it actually is. Don’t get me wrong. The second chapter is still a blast. There’s just a little more of a wait to get back on the ride this time.
Chapter II introduces us to Masha (Bastard’s Rebekah Kennedy), a strange woman who does not seem to play well with others. Her introduction into the story comes with the gift of her “Boogeywoman” grandmother’s wickedness, which she feels the power of while choking out her sexual companion for the evening. When violence results from the act, Masha’s roommate Rachel (Kristina Klebe) rushes to her aid. It’s clear Masha looks up to Rachel in a sort of big sister way at first, but Masha’s jealousy over Rachel’s relationship provides Masha with the idea to assume Rachel’s identity.
The film injects its particular blend of unique creepiness through Masha’s transition from timid roommate to the domineering psychopath in Rachel’s life, relying mainly on the same psychology of Single White Female’s paranoia and the basic fear of inviting a stranger to live in your home. Through makeup effects, Rebekah Kennedy produces unique facial expressions ranging from Carrie-style anger to Cinzia Monreale’s entrancing blindness in The Beyond. Kennedy’s range in taking her character from mousey to threatening is worthy of note as well, helping to keep a menacing tone throughout the second chapter.
Both stories in Two Witches present women who want something different from their current relationships. The invalidation of Sarah’s feelings by her partner through his skeptism makes her feel as if she’s going through her pregnancy alone. Sarah is seemingly having second thoughts on her pregnancy as well, and those thoughts seem to play on Simon’s insecurities when the witch taunts him through Sarah. In the second chapter, Masha wants everything that her roommate Rachel has, using Rachel’s story against her by incorporating the manipulative gaslighting tactics Rachel’s scumbag ex-boyfriend used on her before eventually gaining the power to become her.
While admiring the film’s characters, it occurred to me that Salem Horror Fest made another terrific choice for this year’s festival, especially as they prime audiences for a month-long celebration of master of horror George A. Romero. Two Witches’ presentation of these women, one unhappy in adhering to the gender-normative standard of her relationship and the other empowering herself with evil behavior, is very reminiscent of Joan Mitchell’s (Jan White) journey in Romero’s Season of the Witch split up into separate stories. While Joan breaks free of her apropos middle-class ritual, she becomes enticed by the unconventional freedom she finds in manipulating her daughter’s teacher through witchcraft.
Two Witches starts very strong, and I enjoyed the pseudo-anthology approach to the film. The acting is good, the effects are fantastic, and the lighting and direction help induce a steady uptick in heart palpitations. The second chapter may not stand up as the stronger of the two tales, faltering mainly in its transition. Still, the film remains massively entertaining, making Two Witches a wickedly fun ride I’m sure audiences will enjoy. Also, you’ll want to stay after the credits on this one. After the film proposes a sequel, the movie bounces back to the first story to tie up loose ends and provide a final scare to the audience.
Two Witches is playing Friday, October 1 as part of Salem Horror Fest’s first day of events, while George A Romero’s Season of the Witch is playing Saturday, October 2. Individual tickets are not for sale. Passes for the whole festival or just a weekend can be purchased through the Salem Horror Fest Website. Two Witches will also be presented as a part of Salem Horror Fest’s Virtual Festival beginning October 22.