The Noonday Witch
A story of Eliska and her daughter, starting a new life in a remote house with the ‘father away on business’, as the mother claims. After the lie is disclosed, their relationship begins to wither. At that time, the mythical Noonday Witch begins to materialize. She is coming closer and closer and the question is poised: is the danger real or is it all in the mother’s crumbling head?
When you think of the most chilling horror tales of all time, there are a lot of staples that come immediately to mind when it comes to possible settings – like dank asylums, haunted houses, isolated forests, or just about anywhere that feels a little creepier and more sinister under cover of darkness. You don’t probably think of sun-drenched corn fields or bright summer days in the countryside, but The Noonday Witch may just change your mind about that.
The Noonday Witch is a 2016 Czech language film brought to the screen by promising Czech director, Jiri Sadek. (In fact, Sadek is discussed in many genre circles these days as a talent to watch, and this film is a large part of the reason why.) Poetry lovers and literary scholars may be interested to know that it draws inspiration from an 1853 poem by Karel Jaromir Erben all about a harried mother and son stalked by an unnamed entity. (Although the poem may be less familiar to American viewers, it’s very popular and well-known in the Czech Republic and surrounding areas.)
The unusual setting alone should signal a curious viewer that they’re in for something different, and they’d be right, because The Noonday Witch is really quite stunningly put together. The plotline follows the adventures of widowed single mother, Eliska (played by Ana Geislerova) and her young daughter, Anetka (Karolina Lipowska). They’ve recently moved back to the home town of Eliska’s late husband, a seemingly charming Czech village in the countryside.
However, as might be expected, things don’t go quite as smoothly as Eliska and Anetka probably hoped they would. The summer heat is intense and oppressive. There are rowdy, drunken neighbors to contend with, as well as sinister-seeming town denizens like that mayor’s wife (Daniela Kolarova). Then there’s the mysterious legend of the Noonday Witch, a dark entity that is rumored to be ready to rise again and claim yet another victim. Will Eliska and Anetka be able to survive the horrors of what’s to come?
There are horror films that immediately reach up and grab the viewer by the throat, and then there are those that slowly build a sense of dread and discomfort instead. The Noonday Witch is better described as the latter. Although there are definitely a few nail-biting sequences and scary visions to be enjoyed for those who really like jump scares and the like, the meat of the scares in Witch is to be found in the underlying tensions present in the relationships between the characters. (Noonday Witch has drawn comparisons to masterpieces like The Babadook for the mother-daughter dynamic in particular.)
As far as the plotline goes, The Noonday Witch doesn’t always follow the logical path some viewers may want it to, but that’s probably to be expected from a horror film based on a 19th century Czech poem. However, there’s a dreamlike, hypnotic quality to the filmmaking that more than makes up for it and puts Noonday Witch in a class by itself. It’s also never quite spelled out exactly where and when the story takes place, which adds to the air of mystery that permeates the film. Ana Geislerova is terrific in the lead as well, which isn’t surprising, as she’s very well-respected as an actress in the Czech Republic. The cinematography is positively breathtaking to boot.
All things considered, if you’re the type of genre fan that loves atmospheric horror along the lines of Midsommar or family stories with depth a la The Babadook, you’ll definitely want to check out The Noonday Witch as well. Gorgeous visuals, interesting characters, and plenty of food for thought combine to make this a great horror movie.