Black Horror Films: Night Of The Witch (2017)
Written & Directed by Zena S. Dixon
One of the most frightening images I remember seeing on screen as a child was a scene in Wes Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) where Dennis Alan (played by Bill Pullman) confronts a mysterious, veiled figure that turns out to be an animated shell of a wrinkled, hollowed out corpse where a large, venomous snake shoots out of its extended mouth to attack his character. An apparent enchantment by the white guy's submersion into a spiritual practice in Haiti, in Craven fashion, dreams in this polarizing film become its strength in telling the story of Haitian vodou through an outsiders perspective. But stories from those inside can bring a much more fulfilling and richer angle that brings forth, a situation you may never have been through, yet becomes the spark of an emotional relatability. In a highly thoughtful depiction psychological terror, filmmaker Zena S. Dixon produces a narrative that is electrifying in exposing social ills and use of the supernatural in her latest, Night Of The Witch.
What Dixon brings to this short piece is quite an intelligent subversion into the character she chooses to center, a Black man, alone at night, having just as much to fear about the known and unknown as everyone else. Our everyday will always drip into our subconscious, especially when we decide to compartmentalize real, waking terror. We remember images of Trayvon and Tamir and Tanisha and many Black people carry the weight; haunting as much as they are motivators for earnest attempts at righting the wrongs. This 'alone at night' imagery is the film's most starkest imprint. It's a powerful utilization of horror that demonstrates Dixon's deep love of the genre with a budding technical mastery of the surreal.
Night Of The Witch opens with dark allegory, only compounded by another recognized way that "evil takes many forms" as noted by Robert Eggers The Witch (2015) where an awareness of the lore behind the craft is emphasized more than the wart-nosed fantasy of the populous. Night Of The Witch interweaves both social commentary with the supernatural in a delightfully perceptive manner. The film is a practice in suspense, relying on personal psychological affliction that magnifies both sound design and the mystery of the antagonist. The 'what is it' and its desires are kept concealed within the canon of text and we as viewers look to our own boogeypersons that have been a burden on our anxiety.
In its roughly five minute period, there are so many other critical components to uncover (war and PTSD, perhaps?), effects, and fun comments I have about the film's gaze but I'd rather not do too much spoiling. Let's discuss those after you check out Night Of The Witch on Amazon Prime and hopefully, give Dixon the shine she so richly deserves.
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