WICKED WITCHES is a prime example of how to nail an opening scene, as the film’s protagonist, Mark (Duncan Casey), is introduced flawlessly without even saying a word. Mark’s marriage has just imploded for reasons which are never fully explained and, in my opinion, don’t need to be. The quiet devastation that Casey conveys as he removes Mark’s wedding ring and throws it away is captivating enough. In need of a place to stay, he finds a room for rent at an old farm which was the site of many parties during his school years; one of his old mates, Ian (Justin Marosa), is even living there now! How perfect! While viewers will immediately notice Ian is super creepy, Mark is simply happy to see a familiar face during this tough time.
I liked this initial premise as it’s basically a twist on Get Out where the lead not only has more reasons to let their guard down, but is simultaneously dealing with a recent emotional hardship. As a result, it’s easier to understand why Mark takes longer to recognise Ian’s behaviour and keeps staying at the farm in spite of it. Besides, there’s other weird stuff happening anyway, for instance, the women Mark sees around town are all blank-faced and silent yet seem to be watching him carefully. Meanwhile, he constantly has nightmares of being chased through woods by demonic women. As I mentioned above, there are few horror tropes more satisfying than watching tension slowly build around an oblivious character, particularly when set to an ominous, Stranger Things-esque score as heard here.
However, things quickly go downhill for Mark and the film when a group of his other mates arrive at the farm to relive their youth with drinks, drugs and dancing. Ian brings the mysterious women who are soon revealed to be demons or witches or ... something? Seriously, that’s how much backstory WICKED WITCHES gives to its eponymous characters; we don’t even find out how their supernatural powers work, let alone their origins. Regardless, any tension or semblance of plot devolve into mindless, distractingly cheap-looking gore as the partygoers are slaughtered. In fact, I swear an extra literally puts their arm inside of their shirt to simulate it being ripped off. Given the Pickerings clearly lacked the budget or technical proficiency to employ convincing VFX, the decision to have these gory sequences comprise almost the entire second half of the film is baffling. I was left with the impression that at this point, WICKED WITCHES stopped being a horror film and started being one about how women are evil creatures seeking to control and destroy men.
Although I originally believed the depiction of Mark’s divorce had been limited to his perspective to maintain pacing, it feels more deliberate and vindictive based on his subsequent encounters with women. In case his recurring nightmares were too subtle, the only line spoken by a female character throughout WICKED WITCHES (a character who, by the way, remains unnamed) emphasises that they have been out to get him all along: “we’ve missed you, Mark”. Even if this misogynistic message was somehow not the intended interpretation of the film, it’s unacceptable and the direct result of the Pickerings’ script leaving out too many details. After a slow but not discouraging first half, it still amazes me that WICKED WITCHES was ultimately botched to such a degree. There will surely be horror fans out there who can get something out of its adherence to tropes, but it’s hard to imagine many viewers will be left satisfied by it.