Mysterious Forest: The Witch is one of the most original, and weirdest, short horror films I've seen this year. It's noteworthy for its oddness.
In a modern day retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, an anachronistic witch preys upon a 21st century girl lost in the woods. The girl (Mira Koteva) can't get a GPS fix on her cell phone. Upon seeing the witch's clothing, she asks if the witch is a Harry Potter fan. The perplexed witch (Emanuela Giacalone) knows nothing of cell phones or Harry Potter. (This despite earlier using a hypodermic needle to inject poison into an apple.)
Is this an oversight on filmmaker Jaroslaw Gogolin's part? With Mysterious Forest: The Witch, it's hard to distinguish the bad from the brilliant. The girl and witch pause after every line. It's what bad actors sometimes do. Yet here their constant pauses contribute to the film's feeling of weirdness.
Then there's the girl's slow reaction to the witch garnishing her with herbs. Still studying her cell phone, the girl slowly notices the witch is sprinkling herbs upon her red coat. Most people would have instantly snapped at the witch. Maybe even smacked her. The girl only responds with a "What is this?" and a testy "I don't like this. I don't like any vegetables."
Also weird is the witch's heavy white pancake makeup, with black Goth lipstick and eyeliner. It's too much. She looks like a freak, to us and to the girl, but that's likely intentional. Then there's the witch's strange accent and exaggerated lip smacking. In another context it would be scenery chewing. Here it all somehow works.
Amid this strangeness, there is also beauty. Colors are deeply saturated. The forest is very lush and green. The girl's coat very red. Appropriate hues for the film's storybook conceit. The ominous music injects menace into the story, such that the witch's weirdness appears creepy rather than comedic. Despite the witch's difficulties navigating our modern world, we fear for the girl. Mysterious Forest: The Witch depicts witches not as supernatural monsters, nor as wise women healers, but as child predators.
Mysterious Forest: The Witch is a vignette from an intended Mysterious Forest feature. I found two other Mysterious Forest vignettes on YouTube (different actors, different stories) and they don't rise to the level of The Witch, lacking its originality, production values, and overall weirdness. It seems that Gogolin is learning and improving his craft as he proceeds with filming. It will be interesting to see the final feature.
For more information about weird or unusual horror films, see Horror Film Aesthetics: Creating the Visual Language of Fear. This blog represents a continuing discussion of my views on horror, picking up from where the book left off.