Witchly Transitions: Venefica (2016)

A young woman experiences an anxious moment in her life as she must complete a ritual that determines if her existence will be governed by the light or darkness.

Written and directed by Maria Wilson

The word venefica "suggests veneration and honor." It has been used to describe women who pull from natural and feminine divinity to advise communities. Additionally, there are interpretations that say a Venefica sorceress is "a female who poisons." With these seemingly conflicting descriptions, Venefica fits perfectly as a story of a young witch named Penelope (played by Wilson) who must endure a rite of passage where good or evil will take resonance with her powerful identity. And she has no say in which.

There are intriguing, dark humor nib-lets to chew on during Penelope's process that rely heavily on our own perceptions. Venefica is atmospheric and beautifully shot, giving clues their shine with vibrant colors in contrast to the fear and unexplained intentions of the characters. Penelope's demonstrative range of fragile, stoic, nervous, and delighted is a smart combination in the time frame we're given. This emotional combination mirrors the way in which we can reflect on our own past, present, and inevitable futures. Venefica identifies first with the relatability of its protagonist and adds blood, sacrifice, nature, and levitation to enhance the fantastic elements that make it so alluring.

This award-winning, impressive spin on witchcraft and the gothic has given Venefica program slots at well-known events such as Fantasia and the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. Maria is a Virginia native, current Brooklyn resident who graduated from NYU. A lover of sci-fi and fantasy, her mom called Venefica "disturbing" which Wilson notes as affirmation that she's "on a good track." Further, Wilson has explained eloquently the importance of this genre narrative that was worth sharing:

"During the writing process, I was at a frustrating point in my life where other people’s decisions were having huge impacts on my future and that sudden lack of control was hard to deal with. I ended up creating this story about Penelope, a young witch who must endure a difficult rite of passage to learn whether her powers will be used for good or for evil - an outcome she has no say in because the magic decides for her.

I cast myself in the role not only because black and multi-racial women are highly underrepresented in film, but also because I resonated with the character (obviously). Ironically enough, despite its dark and creepy nature, I’m really comforted every time I watch Venefica simply because I’m reminded that I don’t have to go through what Penelope does. It’s extremely empowering to be reminded of your own free will." (More at wearemovingstories.com)

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