The Movie Waffler New Release Review - SORCERY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - SORCERY

Sorcery review
In 1880s Chile a young indigenous girl turns to witchcraft to avenge her father's murder.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Christopher Murray

Starring: Valentina Véliz Caileo, Daniel Antivilo, Daniel Muñoz, Sebastian Hülk

Sorcery poster

Following Felipe Gálvez' The SettlersChristopher Murray's Sorcery is another tale of colonial horrors on the wind-beaten Atlantic coast of Chile in the late 19th century. Murray's film takes inspiration from a real life event, the 1880 trial that saw members of an indigenous island community accused of practicing witchcraft against European settlers.

The island is Chiloé, which has been settled by German farmers who employ the indigenous locals as servants. 13-year-old Rosa (Valentina Véliz, impressively balancing wide-eyed innocence and steely determination) is in the employ of one such family, led by tough patriarch Stefan (Sebastian Hülk). Rosa has converted to Christianity and speaks German with her employers. She seems innocently content with her lot, though it's clear her German masters don't consider her their equal. When the family gathers at the dinner table, Rosa is forced to leave the room while they say The Lord's Prayer. She listens to the words and mouths along from the next room.

Sorcery review

Rosa's view of Christianity is shattered when her father is accused of being involved in what appears to be a ritual slaughter of Stefan's sheep. He's torn apart on command by Stefan's dogs and Rosa is exiled from the home. Seeking justice for the killing, Rosa approaches the town mayor (Daniel Muñoz), who knows which side his bread is buttered on and refuses to cause trouble with the Germans. A local priest is similarly unilling to help, but he does send Rosa to Mateo (Daniel Antivilo), an indigenous elder who allows her to sleep in his barn and earn her keep by helping him catch fish.

Aware of his involvement in "La Recta Provincia," a rumoured coven of indigenous witches, Rosa pleads with Mateo to use his powers against Stefan. Maeo's initial hesitancy gives way when he prevents Rosa from drowning herself in the sea. The members of La Recta Provincia gather and begin a vengeful ritual.

Sorcery review

Like the recent Slavic folk-horror NightsirenSorcery finds itself in the difficult position of attempting to spin a fantasy of revenge while avoiding portraying its righteous heroes indulging in the sort of supernatural antics those persecuted in real life were accused of. To suggest that La Recta Provincia did indeed carry out acts of sorcery would only enhance the claims of their persecutors, and so Murray is forced to imbue his tale with an ambiguity that viewers may find frustrating. As the audience we're placed in the difficult position of wishing to see Rosa embrace witchcraft and use its powers to find justice while being all too aware that such a depiction would be deeply problematic and wrapped up in all sorts of offensive tropes about "mystical" indigenous people.

Murray handles this problem more astutely than we saw with Nightsiren. He depicts the supernatural in a manner that gives the viewer the ultimate judgement of whether any paranormal forces are at play here. When Stefan's two young boys disappear, rumours spread that they have been transformed into his two dogs. A shot of the dogs on the boys' beds can thus be taken to back up this claim if the viewer so wishes. What of the birds that seem to circle unnaturally over the home of local witch Aurora (Neddiel Muñoz Millalonco)? Again, it's left to the viewer to decide if this is a natural phenomenon or something more inexplicable. A vest made of skin is either fashioned from the skin of an animal or from Stefan's boys, depending on which claims you swallow.

Sorcery review

Regardless of the thematic ambiguity, Murray certainly shoots his film in the manner of a horror movie. The mist and rain blown across the island by the Atlantic winds gives the film the appearance of the many folk-horrors set under similar grey skies in Britain. There's a foreboding sense of dark forces being brought to play by lingering shots of religious paraphernalia, be it the candle-lit Christian shrine in the mayor's home or the long, knotted rope dragged by a naked witch. It's as though Murray wants us to contemplate the meaning of such symbols by staring at them, and he seems keen to point out how the symbols of Christianity and the indigenous beliefs are equally absurd or potent, depending on your own views.

Sorcery is something of a fantasy for those of us who frown at the respect afforded to Christianity by the victims of its colonial past. There's a great irony that as Europeans reject Christianity, it's being kept alive by the descendants of Indigenous Americans and Africans who had it forced upon them at the point of a sword. When Rosa breaks apart her handmade cross it's a punch the air moment, but real world evidence suggests it's perhaps the most fantastical element of the entire movie.

 is in UK cinemas from June 14th.

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