This is a fine piece of grownups-only folk horror, aimed squarely at audiences who embraced the likes of “Lamb” and “Midsommar.”
Australian-Macedonian screenwriter-director Goran Stolevski sets his dark, bloody tale in rural 19th Century Macedonia, where tales of a “wolf-eateress” abound.
There is, in fact, a witch living near the community.
The beginning reminded me a lot of “Sleeping Beauty,” because we see the witch (Anamaria Marinca) hover over a baby girl, the child of a peasant woman.
The mother begs the witch to let her have the child for 16 years. The witch agrees: She will let the child grow into her teen years, but then the witch will come to claim her as her own daughter.
The bargain is sealed in a most grisly manner: The witch wounds the infant’s throat, and thus she is unable to speak.
The real mother hides the girl away, and teaches her absolutely nothing about the world outside her prison, for that is what it is. Nevena (Sara Klimoska) knows only her mother.
We hear what Nevena thinks, in not-quite-incoherent words. For example, she calls her biological mother “whisper-mama.”
The wolf-eateress reappears, and kills Nevena’s mother to take over her body. “Witch-mama” takes Nevena out into the world that both shocks and appeals to the girl who has never seen the leaves on a tree.
“Witch-mama” is cruel and harsh, and finally gives up on Nevena. Nevena, herself a witch, begins to take different shapes – including one played by the wonderful Noomi Rapace – and learn about the world around her.
She begins to learn that some people are unnecessarily cruel, and sometimes life can be horrifying. But she also learns people can be kind.
This is a fresh, intelligent take on old themes, a kind of essay about what it means to be human. It isn’t meant only to make you shudder, but also to make you think.
3 ½ stars
Running time: One hour and 48 minutes.
Rated: R for foul language, sexual situations, violence and gore.
Streaming on ROW8, Prime Video, Redbox., Vudu Movie & TV Store, VUDU or Apple TV.
Watch the trailer here.