Witches of Blackwood Movie Review

Written by Stuart D. Monroe

Released by High Octane Pictures | Devilworks Pictures

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Directed by Kate Whitbread
Written by Darren Markey
2020, 78 minutes, Not Rated
Released on September 9th, 2021

Cassandra Magrath as Claire Nash
Francesca Waters as Sarah Nash
John Voce as Clifford Armstrong
Nicholas Denton as Luke Dawson
Lauren Bailey as Woman in Bath
Lee Mason as Terrence Walker

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I’ve always felt horror has a versatility that other genres simply cannot compete with. Within the genre, there are dozens of subgenres and styles that can be used to scare the piss out of people. For that matter, a film doesn’t even need to come at you with the intent to make you cower in fear. Some films want to build an atmosphere that’s unnerving precisely because it is grounded in reality and looks just like your everyday world without the need of drippy monsters and teeth-baring psychopaths.

Witches of Blackwood is one of those films.

Police officer Claire Nash (Cassandra Magrath; Wolf Creek) is desperate to get her life back on track. Haunted by the suicide of Luke Dawson (Nicholas Denton; Glitch), she struggles to escape the hell of her emotions. She’s also plagued by dark visions of a childhood barely remembered. When her Uncle Clifford (John Voce; Downton Abbey) calls to tell her of her father’s death, she knows a reckoning with her own guilt and grief is coming. What Claire isn’t prepared for is the mystery she finds when she returns home – all the women in town look sinister and half-dead, and the men fear her and her family! The question of what happened to her father quickly becomes secondary to the mystery of what’s taking women and their children into the woods to never be seen again. And what does it have to do with her “presumed dead” mother?

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Witches of Blackwood is a grounded, pitch-black self-exploration. A slow-burn that builds to a deeply personal finish, it won’t satisfy gorehounds or the “t&a” crowd. There’s nary a jump scare to be found, and that’s not a bad thing. Witches of Blackwood just isn’t that kind of film.

The film opens up moody and atmospheric to the Nth degree and stays there for the most part. Very little is made clear in the first half as various aspects of the story are unexplained while even more are introduced. That could be a deal-breaker if you lack patience. Witches of Blackwood is a film that uses liberal doses of said patience and a raw, down-to-earth realism to tell a highly effective story of a child of witchcraft who can break the bonds held over her family and her hometown. Within that methodical pacing and seeming restraint are some truly horrific moments.

Cassandra Magrath’s Claire drives the movie with a deft hand. She’s believable and just questionable enough to leave you wondering about her motivations. Nicholas Denton is the scene-stealer as Luke, however – he maximizes that screen time with intensity, vulnerability, and an admittedly simple SFX job that will nonetheless stay in your head rent-free for a few. The B-story of Luke Dawson’s suicide and how Claire couldn’t stop it is even elevated to the A-story with some smart writing from Darren Markey (on his first screenplay). I won’t call it “elevated horror”; I will say it feels literary in its approach.

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If you like a little underlying message, there’s a smack of relatable truth to be found as well. Witches of Blackwood could just as easily be talking about hereditary madness instead of witchcraft. It’s an onion with some subtextual layers to peel back, and that’s always a wonderful bonus. There’s some statements being made about small towns as well. That never goes out of style.

Witches of Blackwood is a sharp and unsettling character study of the “Am I Evil?” variety. It won’t be for everyone, but good horror is often divisive and requires a little patience. I’m pretty sure there’s an old expression about good things coming to those who wait. I also seem to recall Metallica saying something about what happens to your mother when she’s a witch…

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Movie: 3.5 Star Rating Cover

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Stuart D. Monroe
Staff Reviewer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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