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  • Rev Horror

Heir of the Witch

Dir. Victoria U. Bell (2023)

An underprivileged woman who works as a tailor for a wealthy woman falls in love with her husband, but an ancient family curse threatens to interrupt her search for happiness.


CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS


There seems to be a draw in indie film towards folk horror, and perhaps that's because it's easier to do folk horror on a limited budget. Not only that, but there are thousands of folktales that have never been put on film, not to mention the fact that a lot of these folktales are scary as all fuck and are meant to terrify the people who believe them into doing (or not doing) specific things within their societies. Director Victoria U. Bell (who is referred to as Victoria U. Moore on the poster, for reasons I have not been able to discern) is from the Republic of Moldova, a country just to the south of Ukraine and one that is filled with a lot of the rural folklore and traditions that have become synonymous with that part of Eastern Europe. In her new film Heir of the Witch, she focuses on one particular myth, that of the strigoi, usually considered a folk-relative of the vampire but in this case referring to a familial curse that is passed down through the generations through witchcraft.


Anna (played by Bell herself) is a beautiful young woman who comes from an underprivileged background, but she finds herself mingling with high society when her skills as a tailor and dressmaker comes to the attention of socialite Chloe (Deanna Rashell) and her husband Nicholas (Ben Holtzmuller). Nicholas is enthralled with the young woman, desiring to lift her out of poverty and help her find her place in the world, while Chloe only sees her as the help. As Nicholas begins to fall for Anna, eventually having an affair with her and getting her pregnant, Anna finds herself haunted by the old ghosts of her family and a history that seems doomed to repeat itself.

It's an intriguing story, but ultimately it is also a bit too ambitious for the first-time filmmaker. It often plays more like a telenovela than a serious horror film, though there are some particularly bright spots that are worth mentioning. The makeup effects were pretty decent, though at times they leaned a bit heavy into digital effects (though even that was handled pretty well, to the point where I questioned whether it was actually digital effects of just particularly jarring camerawork). The acting is also really damn good, especially for a film of this caliber. Bell is fantastic as Anna, even if she is at times a bit too melodramatic for modern folk horror, and Rashell is also excellent as the irritatingly rich debutante. Holtzmuller is charming and debonair, a worthy focus for Anna's hesitant attention.


Unfortunately, it is the film's ambition that ultimately leads to its problem with occasional incoherency and . Bell bites off a little bit more than she can chew, telling what becomes a sprawling opus with more story threads than are reasonable to jam into the film's runtime. It almost feels like the film would've been better as a miniseries, both because of the third act's breakneck pacing and because the characters were actually fairly well-written and interesting. The "monster" at the heart of the film, basically a witch whose power reverberates through Anna's family and is constantly lurking near the edge of the frame, is fairly creepy while also being relatively commonplace within the realm of folk horror. All in all, though, the story has some good bones, with a good story hidden within that simply needed a little refinement, a more precise focus on the story with more logical progressions between the various occurrences within.


Heir of the Witch feels very much like a vanity project, as its written, directed, and starring Bell. While this is usually a major problem in a film, what I can say about Bell is that she is immensely talented and is worthy of the attention. The writing in the film is not half bad, and it could've been an excellent story with just a few small tweaks. The film has some fantastic shots, and Bell wisely hides a lot of the film's budgetary problems with creative camera angles and unique cinematography. While Heir didn't hit on all cylinders, Bell is a talent that you should watch out for, because there are bound to be some good projects in her future.


Who this movie is for: Folk horror fans, Indie horror aficionados, Fashion mongers


Bottom line: While there are certainly some areas of the film that need work, largely revolving around the film's plot progression, the acting, writing, and cinematography within are better than average. Director Victoria U Bell does a fantastic job behind the camera and with the script, and with a little bit of refinement, this one could be a hit. I definitely recommend checking it out if you get the chance, and it might be worth looking into some Moldovan folklore while you're at it.

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