Take One, “Savage Witches Review”, by Jim Ross, September 2012

SAVAGE WITCHES 2012 still 8

Originally published by Take One Magazine, 23 September 2012

I would call Savage Witches a film, but that (in a non-disparaging way) would be totally incorrect. Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais’ work goes to great pains to declare itself a “motion picture exploration” and that definition works on a few levels. Like any exploration, it gets a bit lost from time to time and perhaps never finds a destination, but is it really trying to? Giving themselves a blank slate to do exactly what they wanted, Fawcett and Pais’ journey also happens to be quite captivating, if only in spurts.

The story, such that it exists, follows two young girls, Margarita and Gretchen. We follow them as they explore, play, dress up and generally mess about and muse on the nature of freedom and the imposition of rules. To impose any further constraints on the structure of the film would be to defeat the purpose of it. There are many moments where the filmmaking process becomes the film itself, often giving a real sense of joy by celebrating the creative process in an unconstrained manner.

It doesn’t always work; often when the girls have a monologue it feels overlong. These stretches of speech aren’t as captivating as some of the visuals, nor does it retain the same sense of freedom, tipping over into being too self-consciously experimental. The obsession of indie filmmakers in general with VHS continues to baffle me, but it is quite liberating to see Fawcett and Pais experimenting with different formats.

This desire for a lack of burden and throwing off the rules was a theme that seemed to feature in Fawcett’s solo feature Dirt, and that continues here. However, where that feature had experimental sections that felt at odds with what was a fairly conventional narrative, the partnership with Pais seems to have taken the shackles off. The pair revel in the freedom they have been given with Savage Witches. Certain parts didn’t work, such as the oversaturated VHS segments, but one man’s meat is another man’s poison. This is an intensely personal vision from the directorial pair, and those very same parts could well be what someone else draws upon. It would be interesting to know what Fawcett and Pais would make of having the film on loop in a gallery.

Savage Witches occasionally tests the patience, and certain parts do stretch much too far, but many others are simply wonderful; it is a bold and liberated piece of work. The dadaist audacity of it should be admired.