Nightsiren: Boston Underground Film Festival
Dir. Tereza Nvotova (2023)
A young woman returns to her village in search for answers about her childhood, but she soon discovers that ancient traditions and folklore still hold sway over the villagers.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
One of the intriguing things about society’s views about witches and witchcraft is that there are two diametrically opposed viewpoints. First, the historical narrative of witches, largely populated by women who were outcasts because of their various views or behaviors that were viewed negatively by the society in which they live, is that they’re evil and/or Satanic presences looking to mete out curses or spells to terrorize their communities. They were punished for their perceived faults, often resulting in patriarchal attempts to control women who were “out of line” or too independent for their male overlords. The second view, however, is also fascinating. Witches have been, at times throughout history and especially in modern times, seen as women who are totally in control of their own universe, women who stand against oppression by fully expressing their femininity and using it as power. While the two viewpoints are, indeed, complete opposites of each other, perhaps it is possible that both are, at least to a certain extent, true: the patriarchy did, of course, seek to accuse people of witches during Puritanical times to control them, and women have used their perceived “power” to actually claim a sense of power for their own.
It is these two ideas, both presented in equal measure, that Nightsiren seeks to explore. Sarlota (Natalia Germani) has returned to her hometown, where she escaped her mother’s abusive tyranny as a teenager, accidentally killing her sister in the process. She come back to claim her inheritance after receiving a letter from the town’s mayor, but she finds the same bullshit that she left in the first place, the townsfolk’s ultra-religious (and super hypocritical) lifestyle at odds with what they believe to be Sarlota’s intentions. When children begin to go missing, and more importantly the men of the town find their advancements turned down, Sarlota and her new friend Mira find themselves suspected of being evil witches out to harm the town and the people in it. However, despite the town’s nefarious intentions, the women in this story hold their own powers, over their male counterparts and beyond.
To be honest, witch movies, and more broadly folk horror movies, have a hard time holding my interest. Occasionally, you’ll come across a great one like Hellbender, but more often than not they’re boring, slow, and hard to enjoy compared to other genres within horror. However, I can absolutely appreciate the themes on display here, and I get the direction that director Tereza Nvotova is trying to go. It’s a beautifully shot film, well-acted with a decent story, though it may be a bit predictable. It’s at the very least an entertaining film, more watchable and faster paced than most folk horror movies. It’s slow burn, because it’s almost impossible to imagine a folk horror film that isn’t a slow burn, but it works really well and never feels like you’re waiting around for something to happen.
It's a bit ironic that folk movies don’t really impress me usually, because I’m the kind of horror fan where it’s hard to find a kind of horror that I don’t like. Folk and witch horror just never have really done it for me. That being said, this is one of the better ones I’ve come across, though it does feel a bit anticlimactic at the end. It’s a well-made film, and it’s got a lot to say, though nothing will come across as particularly new. Then again, as history seems to be coming back around full force and the world seems to be headed for The Handmaid’s Tale: 2023 Edition, maybe the old lessons need to be taught once again.
Who this movie is for: Folk horror fans, Witch movie lovers, Snake handlers
Bottom line: Nightsiren is a watchable folk horror that will please pretty much anyone who’s a fan of the genre and a lot of folks who aren’t. It’s well-made, the acting is pretty decent, and it’s an old-school horror with modern themes. If you don’t mind subtitles (the film is Slovakian) and like your horror with a bit of a folky bent, I think you’ll enjoy this one. It was showcased on the opening night of the Boston Underground Film Festival, and it’ll hopefully be heading to another festival near you very soon. Check this one out if you get the chance