The Noonday Witch is an atmospheric psychological horror-drama that falters when it tries for the jump scares.
Eliska and her daughter Anetka move to a remote house to start a new life. Eliska has told Anetka that her father is away on business, but the villagers seem to think otherwise. Meanwhile, Anetka is told about the noonday witch…
Based on a Slavic myth, The Noonday Witch‘s story begins well. There are a number of aspects to the tale; the absent father, the supernatural legend, and trustworthiness of the villagers. The film generates a sense of mystery which works well for the first half. However, as more elements are revealed, the film choses a particular tangent to follow. The other two elements operate in the background.
The setting of the film works very well for this genre. It is an isolated community, and director does well to generating an feeling of apprehension. The interesting thing about The Noonday Witch is that it focuses on the daytime. With a reliance in horror of nighttime settings, it is refreshing to concentrate the most frightening aspects of the film in broad daylight. Director Jiri Sádek plays this up with its setting. In different type of film, the country house and sun-kissed fields would be idyllic. Sádek transforms this safety into a place of fear rather effectively.
Where the film falters in its attempts to jump from psychological drama to horror. The subtle atmospherics go out of the window, to be replaced by a number of jump scares. Unfortunately, these are not effective at generating frights. Thus, it feels like a bit of a letdown. The film is carefully paced, which builds tension. Yet the payoff is a disappointment.
There are some decent aspects to the film. The descent of the Eliska is an interesting dimension. This is portrayed in a probable fashion, particularly in her engagement with members of the village. The relationship between mother and daughter works well, even if the withholding of information becomes a little risible. The cinematography works well to capture both the beauty of the location and the sense of isolation. In fact, the film balances on the line between isolation and claustrophobia. This is one of the aspects that works really well. Performances in the film are fine overall.
The Noonday Witch is a film that begins well, and hooks viewers initially. It is a shame that it goes in a direction which is less well executed.
The Noonday Witch is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.