The Noonday Witch: The terrors of parenthood
by Martin Kudláč
- KARLOVY VARY 2016: Czech filmmaker Jiří Sádek's psychological horror-drama approaches the topic of parenthood from the vantage point of genre film
The Czech title The Noonday Witch [+see also:
interview: Jiří Sádek
film profile] was selected in competition in the East of the West section, for debut and sophomore features from Central and Eastern Europe, of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Emerging talent Jiří Sádek, after several award-winning short films, directed this feature-length project written by Michal Samir, another representative of the emerging new generation of Czech filmmakers, who debuted with the one-shot wonder Hany [+see also:
interview: Michal Samir
film profile]. In addition, The Noonday Witch was produced by Matěj Chlupáček, who managed to finish his directorial debut, Touchless [+see also:
interview: Matěj Chlupáček
film profile], by the age of 19 – without even attending film school!
Samir’s script is based on the ballad of the same name by famous Czech romantic poet Karel Jaromír Erben, which develops a mother’s frustration at being left alone with her child while tending to a household. The mother tries to scare the child into behaving, saying a demonic entity, the Noonday Witch, will snatch him when the clock strikes twelve in the bright daylight. Samir fleshed out this core for the feature-length format while also tweaking the initial substance to better suit the contemporary viewer.
Eliška, played superbly by one of the hottest Czech actresses around at the moment, Aňa Geislerová, returns to her husband’s old house, her little daughter in tow, under the rays of the scorching sun. As her daughter awaits her father’s return, Eliška tries to stop their lives from crumbling apart as family finances run dangerously low. Soon it is not only the daughter’s unanswered question about her father’s whereabouts that haunts Eliška, but also a mentally unstable local woman who starts bothering them about a force threatening to abduct the child.
Sádek and Samir re-animate Erben’s poem in the topical space of parental emotional and material responsibility, two millstones grinding away at the sanity of the film’s protagonist. Genres collide and Sádek applies a refreshing approach to worn-out horror tropes, outside the conventions, in what manifests itself as the choice to set the terror in broad daylight, reworking the haunted-house formula. This eventually pushes the story beyond the boundaries of horror and into the realms of psychological drama. The nightmarish imagery surrounding Eliška and her daughter becomes an externalised manifestation of Eliška’s existential dread as her life spirals out of control, and the pressure, anxiety and frustration reach breaking point. Considerable credit for the atmosphere of The Noonday Witch must also go to experienced DoP Alexander Šurkala, who, shooting on 35 mm, turns the heat and sunkissed fields into a harrowing and crescendoing experience, vividly evoking the protagonist’s state of mind and creeping paranoia.
Sádek’s oeuvre ranks among his country’s attempts to revitalise genre film, following last year’s found-footage horror Ghoul [+see also:
film profile] by Peter Jákl, emulating American sub-genre tropes, and Andy Fehu’s lo-fi indie horror The Greedy Tiffany [+see also:
film profile]. The Noonday Witch represents the marriage between drama and genre, using the elements of the latter to demonstrate the price of protecting one’s child. Sádek succeeds in transferring this current topic, usually locked within the confines of social realism, into genre territory without losing the urgency of his subject matter.