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In 1644, England was in the third year of a bloody civil war. On one side were those who had stayed loyal to King Charles I, known as Royalists. On the other, the rebels called Roundheads fought for Oliver Cromwell and Parliament, attempting to limit the power of the king. Charles, they felt, had abused his power and deserved to forfeit his throne, which prompted many fierce battles throughout England. This is the situation when the movie Hex begins, and let me apologize now for letting my inner history geek out to play.

It's the aftermath of a battle, and a lone Royalist survivor, Richard (Daniel Oldroyd), wakes to find he's been left for dead. Re-equipping himself from the fallen, he sets out to rejoin his fellows. But there's another survivor in the woods nearby, a very young man named Thomas (William Young). He seems far more comfortable with reading and praying then with fighting, unlike career soldier Richard, but the real reason they can't get along, as Richard quickly deduces, is that Thomas is a Roundhead.

A duel begins, and though Thomas is outmatched as far as skill (and armor) he has the advantage of speed, not to mention the added incentive of fighting for his life, since he knows Richard isn't likely to show him any mercy. When Thomas sees his chance, he runs and hides, and I can't blame him. But Richard knows something about tracking, and the chase is on.

The woods are full of pagan symbols and a mysterious figure (Suzie Frances Garton) haunts the area -- and seems to toy with the men's dreams as well. When the two meet again -- an awkward situation, as you might imagine -- Thomas argues that the woods have been made evil by a witch, and the two men must join forces if they hope to live. The practical Richard is far less sure that any danger comes from witchcraft, but he's forced to admit that an ally could come in handy.

Whether it's due to witchcraft or simple human psychology, however, bizarre things are certainly happening and distrust fills the air. Can fundamental differences in outlook ever truly be set aside? How much can be forgiven in the name of survival? These are real issues here, and the movie is at least as much a character study as a horror film. The characters are facing the ultimate fear, that of the unknown, and their reactions are absolutely believable and sympathetic, even when they're making terrible mistakes.

The build of tension is a little too slow at first, but by the final scenes you won't be able to look away as the men finally uncover something of the truth. I loved the historical setting, but despite the distance of centuries there's a great deal here that anyone can relate to, thanks to a solid script and convincing acting. In the end, perhaps nothing and no one in the film is quite what it seems to be, and discovering the reality makes for a compelling journey.

Movie poster. What Richard sees will haunt him forever.


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