Film review by Nathanial Eker
If there are two things that I'll never understand the fascination with, it's social media and the occult. Therefore, The Witches of Bushwick - a horror short that aims to satire both - is a tad out of my comfort zone. A little digging reveals that the film is based on a new Instagram sub-culture focused on all things witchy, suitably titled #WitchesofInstagram. This interesting rabbit hole is primed for a parodic short, stuffed full of witty jibes at the modern world's obsession with virtual content as well as the current trend of making a business out of any fad. Unfortunately for The Witches of Bushwick, it lacks the razor sharp writing and strong performances to be anywhere near the biting social satire it wants to be.
Margaret is the newest recruit into a coven of modern witches who have used their occult fascinations to create a powerful fandom in the lucrative world of social media influencers. They sell crystals, endorse products, and leave cheery messages that hilariously juxtapose their morbid interests. However, something doesn't seem right with Margaret. At her induction ceremony, things literally go to hell as the witchy influencers are forced to deal with real supernatural threats.
The Witches of Bushwick undeniably boasts a novel concept. Pitting the increasingly terrifying influence of vloggers alongside archaic fears of the supernatural is a clever twist that blends modern and ancient commentary and iconography. Regrettably, the script's execution is far scrappier and poorly paced, letting down what had the potential to be a hammy-yet-intelligent horror jaunt in the same vein as Ready or Not. In terms of satire, all we get is lip service to the fact that 'witching' has become a business, as well as a hastily slapped on vengeance plot that is more tiresome than it is amusing or intense.
Effective horror is a magic that the film has yet to master, mostly due to the script offering no tension whatsoever. An atmosphere of sorts is established through the isolated setting and well-implemented score, but we never get a real sense of threat until it's right up in our face with three minutes left of the film. A healthy amount of foreshadowing could've really helped, particularly when (spoilers) the witches meet their demise; a sequence that could've delivered poetic irony in spades.
The cast do little to save the picture and while they certainly look the part, they are largely as wooden as a vampire's stake. Director - writer - actor Catherine Delaloye is serviceable as Margaret but lacks the appropriate menace to make us believe that she's a 'real' witch as she's mostly snarky, not sinister. The other witches have a tough time trying to carry the hastily introduced emotional weight of the final five minutes, though it's difficult to defend their reactions to the horrific events, which range from mild irritation to pantomimic terror.
Chloe Farnworth gives a decent 'final girl' turn as cult-leader Anika, though her unfocused dialect is as distracting as it is ever-changing. However, as a satire of social media influencers, the cartoonish performances work surprisingly well, as their absurd reactions and hyperbolic vernacular does effectively parody the stereotypical vlogger persona.
Credit must also be given to the film's mise-en-scene which is undeniably excellent, and could easily be mistaken for an episode of American Horror Story. The 'beast' too, while clearly a man in a suit, is paired with chilling sound effects and is obscured enough to become the film's most frightening element. Had it been properly utilised to deliver genuine scares, this occult creeper could've made quite the frightening foe.
Simply put, The Witches of Bushwick is a disappointment. A well-developed satire of a niche social media trend (as well as the absurdities of influencers in general), could've been funny and horrifying in equal measure. As is, the characters are too bland to get behind, due to poor writing and dull performances in equal measure. The film's narrative is also too top-heavy to be properly impactful, despite providing a fun subversion of generic horror movie plots in principle.
With that said, The Witches of Bushwick does boast an unnerving soundtrack, stunning scenery, and an impressive mise-en-scene, particularly with regards to its demonic creature costume. With another few drafts and tighter direction, The Witches of Bushwick could've been a solid pasticcio of all things 'Instagramable' and occult. As is, it's a watchable short, with a few enjoyable moments but a sloppy execution.