Originally published by 366 Weird Movies, 14 May 2013
With a title like that and two teenage girls in the main roles, you might be expecting another grindhouse gem to assert itself onto the film scene. Not in this universe, however—in fact, Savage Witches is best served by throwing out all expectations and just going with the flow of images and sounds in this “motion picture exploration,” as it bills itself. Savage Witches hearkens back to earlier days of experimental film—the makers cite the works of the Kuchar brothers and Derek Jarman as influences, and the film itself is a direct homage to the Czech film classic Daisies by Vera Chytilová, which also is about the adventures of two young women who decide to break out of their roles and have adventures by ‘being bad.’
Where Daisies was seen as an overt attack on society by the ‘bad’ behavior of its lead characters, Savage Witches is far less political, but it is still an aesthetic attack on the audience’s expectations of film as entertainment. There are no character arcs and not much in terms of action driving the plot forward. In fact, there’s only the barest hint of any sort of plot… instead, the action is mainly abstract, with the film changing from live action, to photo collage, to storyboards, to Super-8 as Gretchen & Margarita explore their freedom; although the real liberty is the freedom of cinema from the strictures that we commonly bring to it.
The film begins with a myriad of colors across the screen, and a voice inviting the audience to join in on an exploration—a dream—through which the voice informs the audience, “we can go anywhere, see anything”. The colors coalesce into two faces, Gretchen and Margarita, and from here on they function as guides/proxies for the audience, as they move forward into adventure: an adventure of form and format, rather than any sort of plot or story that has to be followed in the service of ‘business’ or whatever. That is the only ‘savagery’ exhibited by these pair of “savage witches”: the refusal to conform to the typical structure of what we expect when we sit down to watch a film. It is perhaps for this reason that the “savage witches” are burned at the end (besides the fact it provides an exciting ending), and our last glimpse of them is of them resting in state, but even then, they continue to flout our expectations… in contrast to the heroines of Daisies, who are definitely punished at the end for their bad behavior. Of course the attack that the protagonists of the Czech film lead against their society is far more pointed and nastier than Savage Witches. Also, the girls of Witches are not as sexualized as the women in Daisies, who use their erotic appeal as a battle tactic.
For a 70 minute experimental feature film, Savage Witches is highly entertaining, which may come as a surprise to audiences in the U.S., whose exposure to experimental film is usually in short form and viewed as something to be endured, like a visit to the dentist. It doesn’t really qualify as weird, except perhaps to someone who has never viewed any sort of film that didn’t have a linear narrative, but that probably qualifies it as a good gateway for people to get into experimental films – its ‘weird’ factor isn’t quite high enough to alienate the General Viewer, but it’s just strange enough to be engaging to fans of weird film. It’s also helped by the music of Fiona Bevan and sound design of Simon Keep, and the engaging performances of Christina Wood and Victoria Smith as the lead characters.
Savage Witches should continue to screen in film festivals in 2013, and DVDs should be available directly from the filmmakers from their website within a month or so.