Wednesday, October 27, 2021

THE NOONDAY WITCH (2016) Movie Review

Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 26
Total First Time Views: 17
Amount raised for ALBANY PARK THEATER PROJECT: $2,167.10

The Noonday Witch (aka Polednice) (2016) d. Jiri Sádek (Czech Republic) (85 min) (1st viewing)

During a blisteringly hot, drought-filled summer, Eliska (Ana Geislerova) and her daughter Anetka (Karolina Lipowska) arrive at the rural village where their husband/father Tomas grew up as a child. The cause of their journey is a sad and muted one, that being Tomas’ demise, perhaps by his own hand, but Eliska hopes to get a fresh start having inherited her late husband’s small farm. She has yet to muster the courage to inform Anetka of his passing, responding to her daughter’s frequent inquiries as to “When will daddy be joining us?” with “Soon.” The villagers are welcoming to the widow of their much-beloved Tomas’, although the mayor’s wife Mrs. Mrazova (Daniela Kolarova) senses that Eliska is in danger from the same spectre that haunted her years ago: that of the fabled noonday witch, wandering the wheat fields, sowing pain and discontent in her wake….

During its festival run, many online reviewers have made comparisons between director Sadek’s feature debut and Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, since both feature recently widowed mothers attempting to regain their footing with a single child consistently reflecting their loss. While it’s true the two share a common plot set-up, the aesthetics are quite different, with much of Noonday Witch taking place in the stark, sun-drenched countryside (kudos to cinematographer Alexander Surkala) and the emotions living far deeper below the surface.

Indeed, the spiritual cinematic sister that sprung immediately to mind is Philip Ridley’s The Reflecting Skin, with its vast amber landscapes, painterly vistas, and painful, mournful characters quietly struggling through their existence. As in that film, Nature plays a huge role, with the sunlight fiercely beating down on the sweating, slow-moving human below, and every frame of water being given a heightened quality. (There is a gorgeous quiet sequence where Eliska washes her dinner dishes with sand, then proceeds to do the same with her daughter in the bathtub.)

Between the mythology conjured by the mentally ill Mrs. Mrazova, who we later learn strangled her own son trying to protect him from the witch, the advances of a lecherous handyman (Jiri Strebel), and Eliska’s devastating cycles of grief and denial, Sadek and his creative team generate a great deal of tension and dread. Anetka, upon discovering the truth about her father (shown his gravesite by a neighbor), takes to shutting her mother out of her room, unwittingly turning Eliska into a childhood monster trying to beat down the door.

With this much excellence on display, it’s astoundingly disappointing when Sadek and screenwriter Michal Samir blink in the final act, serving up a syrupy, overwrought-with-symbolism happy ending (involving a solar eclipse, no less) that magically heals everything. True, it’s a surprise twist ending, in that all the pieces are in place for a devastating repetition of the events that befell the Mrazovas, and yet that’s not what happens. If Eliska would have somehow chosen to avoid her fate, that would have worked as well. But instead of digging into her emotional reserves and swerving the metaphorical wheel to avoid the oncoming metaphorical truck, it’s as though the truck just vanishes off the highway and all is well. It is, as the poet says, bullshit.

All throughout my viewing, I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to celebrate and recommend this movie. And now, I just can’t. Instead, I recommend turning it off at the 80-minute mark, writing your own conclusions, enjoying them for a while, then resume watching in order to witness Sadek making quite possibly the least satisfying choice imaginable. Ah, the horror indeed.

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