Mark of the Witch

Everyone has wished for a different family at least once. How can you not, when every Thanksgiving Uncle Harry tells the same tired jokes and your cousins won't stop fighting over the best way to cook brussels sprouts? (Hint: There isn't one.) Or you might have the opposite problem, like Jordyn (Paulie Rojas) does in Mark of the Witch, where it's just her and her strict aunt Ruth (Nancy Wolfe), and Jordyn can only wish that someday she might find her real parents.

Admittedly it's a bit strange that she's wishing for her parents, plural, since she has her mother's obituary. Ruth, creepily, reminds Jordyn at her 18th birthday party that she's now exactly the same age her mother was when she died and tries to get everyone to pray. Did I mention she was religious as well as strict? Jordyn, unsurprisingly, rebels against this, with dramatic results. There's nothing like having to call 911 at a birthday party.

But Jordyn has a boyfriend named Don (David Landry) and a best friend / roommate Kym (Lillian Pennypacker) to help her out with her strange aunt, and there's Jordyn's job at the pharmacy, though that doesn't seem like much fun since she has to work night shifts where apparently she has only the janitor, John (Michael Rappaport) for company. He's creepy too, but maybe she thinks that's normal.

Anyway, as usual, Jordyn's birthday wish was for her real parents, except this year her wish comes true... and yes, it comes true in a very bad way and the whole movie gets steadily creepier. There is some supernatural horror, but what really made me uneasy was the fact that everything became so uncertain. It gets harder and harder to tell what's really happening and what's all in someone's head, and soon you end up just as confused as Jordyn. She wakes up in unfamiliar places and doesn't know how she got there, Ruth is acting crazier than usual, and even Don and Kym aren't themselves.

Jordyn is amazing at looking lost and confused, by the way. She's like Audrey Hepburn with her huge dark eyes. She also doesn't blink much, which I think helped make me more uneasy. But she does a wonderful job being both befuddled and determined to save herself, in more ways than one, just as Nancy Wolfe manages to make the transitions from Creepy Aunt to Protective Aunt convincing.

The characterizations do feel off sometimes, though I'm still not sure if that was an accident or deliberate. Most of the movie is shown through Jordyn's perspective, and that perspective is obviously unreliable. The pacing also seemed off at times, though -- the buildup of tension suffers somewhat from a few too many scene changes. It was initially a short film, and I'm tempted to see if I can find the original version, which might have done a better job with that.

But overall it was frightening and fascinating, pulling you into Jordyn's surreal, unsettling world and asking more questions than it answers. The teaser scene after the credits doesn't even help. It's a great premise that falls a bit short in execution, but well worth watching, and worth four out of five stars. All of us have wondered about who we are and where we really come from, but luckily few of us have to face the same sorts of answers that Jordyn does.

Jordyn with blood on her face. She's having one of those days.


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