After releasing a string of acclaimed films such as Vengeance, The Krays: Dead Man Walking, and The Haunting of Pendle Hill, director Richard John Taylor is back with The Winter Witch, a creepy modern-day fairy tale that will make you think twice before disrespecting local legends. Because there just might be a vengeful centuries-old witch waiting to strike down anyone who doubts her existence.
Rose Hakki stars as Ingrid, a perseverant journalist who also serves as a single parent to her daughter, Eleanor (Evie Hughes). After being tasked with investigating a string of disappearances around her rural hometown, Ingrid grudgingly returns to her childhood home to uncover the truth behind the deaths. She soon learns are connected to the legend of a witch known as Frau Perchta.
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The townsfolk clearly resent Ingrid for coming back, with some of them even believing her turn triggered the murders. Even the local detective investigating the disappearances seems to hold Ingrid accountable to some extent. Hakki’s strong performance as a woman who is clearly not used to being the center of attention will no doubt leave you hoping for a peaceful resolution. Ingrid struggles to come to terms with the curse which continues to plague her family. At the same time, Eleanor befriends a local girl named Natalie (Amelia Mitchell), who also has her own motivations for luring people into the woods. It soon becomes clear that nobody in the village can be trusted.
While the level of graphic violence is kept to an absolute minimum, Taylor still uses the picturesque English countryside to great effect. Specifically, the use of isolated tracking shots following the actors from behind and first-person shots of something moving through the woods strongly gives us the impression of something silently lurking and stalking the characters. Frau Perchta herself is only shown very briefly onscreen. But, you won’t certainly forget her in a hurry. The mixture of prosthetics and makeup is clearly used to great effect, as she really was as hideous as possible.
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And Taylor is clearly a fan of aerial photography. The haunting footage of frozen landscapes played over the opening credits gives the impression that we’re experiencing a fairy tale from a bygone era, despite the modern-day setting. The haunting chorus played throughout this scene is chilling, so this is absolutely a film to be enjoyed on cold winter nights. Taylor also incorporates various black-and-white flashback scenes (complete with lens-scratching effects) throughout the film, emphasizing how the curse of Frau Perchta has existed for many generations.
Despite Frau Perchta’s limited screen time, her menacing presence is clearly felt all the way through. Particularly attentive viewers will also notice a reference to a character from Muse, one of Taylor’s earlier films, with the implication clearly being that Muse and The Winter Witch are supposed to take place in the same continuity. This indicates that Taylor has secretly been building his own cinematic shared universe. But, we’ll just have to wait and see what exactly he has in store.
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Cult actress Rula Lenska also appears as Ingrid’s grandmother, Omi. With her thick French accent and her unwavering belief in the legend of Frau Perchta, Omi proves to be one of the most memorable characters in the film. At the same time, Jimmy “The Bee” Bennett, appears as Ingrid’s estranged partner, Frank, who clearly loves his wife and former daughter, despite not always having been there for them. While he was skeptical at first, Frank soon comes to accept the reality of the local legend, leading him to take drastic measures in order to stop Frau Perchta before she hurts his family. Seeing such a tough and no-nonsense character like Frank clearly being intimidated by a mythical being who he initially viewed as nothing more than a myth is enough to deter any of us from messing with Frau Perchta.
Without the end credits, The Winter Witch runs for just seventy-five minutes. A longer runtime would certainly have allowed for more character and plot development. The ending also seems rather abrupt, as if they needed to end the story within a certain timeframe. So while it was a little too short, this was still an atmospheric and haunting modern-day fairy tale that breathes new life into one of the most disturbing stories from ancient folklore. There will always be an audience for folk horror, and those of you who are willing to wander alone through the woods are likely to be entertained by The Winter Witch.
It may be over too soon, but Taylor still managed to successfully adapt the legend of Frau Perchta in a way modern audiences will enjoy, making The Winter Witch a memorable and atmospheric folk horror film.