The last of Sundance, on the horror tip: “SORCERY”; “IN MY MOTHER’S SKIN”

Last Updated: January 31, 2023By Tags: , ,

In Christopher Murray’s artfully grim “Sorcery,” justice and revenge walk hand in hand for Rosa (newcomer Valentina Véliz Caileo) after her father is murdered by their employer.

The tragic tale unfolds on the island of Chiloe, off southern Chile. Young Rosa is a servant at the house of Stefan (Sebastian Hulk), head of a German immigrant family. One morning Stefan finds his entire flock of sheep dead in his fields, blaming the Indigenous locals.

After manhandling Rosa, Stefan sets his dogs loose on her father (Francisco Nunez), who is torn to shreds in a gruesome (but mostly offscreen) demise.

Rosa finds her quest to find justice an impossible one. The mayor (Daniel Munoz) is angry that he has been posted to this area and fails to help. Seeking out the local priest fairs no better.

Rosa finds her way to Mateo (Daniel Antivilo), a leader of a resistance group that uses sorcery to carry out their deeds, shapeshifting into animals to move through the night.

This is the group that killed Stefan’s sheep (and many other farmers crops), done as rebellion against the Germans who have staked unlawful claim to their homeland.

The sorcerers use a magic that is of the natural world. This is not an evil clan and Rosa is drawn to their spirituality.

First invaded by the Spaniards and now the Germans, these witches and warlocks are a people who fight for their human rights and against invading oppressors who would enslave them.

Crafted from a screenplay by Christopher Murray and Pablo Paredes, this is a brooding and artistically creepy picture.

Director Murray uses long, quiet, takes that allow Cinematographer María Secco to take full advantage of the Chilean locations. Secco assures the villages, the ocean, and the surrounding mountains breathe with life, beautiful and dangerous in equal measure.

Rosa is the key to the story and its deeper commentaries. Caileo excels at her demanding role, giving a performance filled with tragedy and strength.

There is innocence to the character. As her eyes are opened and her soul becomes stronger, the film builds its own power and comments on the centuries of invaders who would desecrate a land and its people.

Consistently enthralling, patient viewers will find “Sorcery” infectious and quite intoxicating.

Another methodically directed Horror film from this year’s festival was Filipino director Kenneth Dagatan’s unsettling “In My Mother’s Skin”.

Rich with strong subtext, Dagatan’s WWII-set film is a dark and extremely creepy fairytale.

Young actress Felicity Kyle Napuli is Tala, a girl living on a once wealthy estate with her family. The father leaves the family home to meet with Japanese forces in the hope of obtaining the family’s freedom.

Tala is left to help care for her little brother, Bayani (James Mavie Estrella), as their mother (Beauty Gonzalez) is in rapidly deteriorating health.

Fearing they will run out of food, Tala sets out to the woods. It is here she meets a fairy (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), who offers up a cure for her mother, telling the young girl, “This can all end.” Tala accepts the cure (held within a cicada that creeps into her mom’s throat), but the end of the suffering is far from nigh.

The young girl has been tricked. As does the fairy itself, the cure turns Tala’s mother into a hideous flesh-eating monster.

What happens from there is one tragedy after another fueled by many betrayals.

As the fairy’s evil spell seeps into Tala’s life, Dagatan’s text balances deeper sociopolitical issues about war and cultural conflict with grotesque body horrors and pure terror.

There is malevolence in every moment. Thanks to the marvelous sound design by Eddie Huang and Chen Yi Ling, the atmospheric chills are unending. Even the quiet is dangerous and absolutely no one is safe.

“In My Mother’s Skin” is a stylishly directed picture and a hellish and atmospheric nightmare.

With only his second feature, Kenneth Dagatan announces himself to be a Horror filmmaker with a unique eye and the ability to chill his audience to the bone (featured image: “Sorcery”).

The 2023 Sundance Festival took place January 19-29.

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