Witches of Blackwood

Directed by Kate Whithead

Screenply by Darren Markey

Starring Cassandra Magrath, Clifford Armstrong, Lee Mason, Nicholas Denton

Horror is the most constant of cinematic genres. For over one hundred years, the genre has reigned strong and consistent and has produced legions of dedicated fans who live for the next film that they hope will scare them silly. 

As we slowly move towards mid-September and the weather begins to turn cooler, Horror fans around the world are readying themselves for October. In the Horror communities, October is the THE movie-watching month of each year, as fans begin readying their “Creep-Fests” that will begin on 10/1 and last throughout the month, streaming services and television stations begin advertising for their month-long Horror programming, and cinemas begin to roll out scary movies both big and small.

Kate Whithead has gifted Horror fans an early Halloween treat with the sinister and haunting “Witches of Blackwood” a.k.a. “The Unlit”. 

With many sub genres to be found in the world of Horror, one of the most popular has always been films about witches and cults. These types of films are allowed to be creepy and disturbing while keeping one foot (somewhat) in reality. Witches do not wear masks or use machetes and butcher knives to kill their prey. They cast their dark spells upon entire towns and generations. With only a phrase or a chant, witches can summon pure evil. 

With its disturbing picture of a small community under siege by witches, curses, and death, Whithead’s film draws positive thematic comparisons to 1971’s “Blood on Satan’s Claw”, to the early Seventies Hammer Horror films, and (in its folk-horror moments), to the cult classic “The Wicker Man” from 1973. 

Written by Darren Markey, the film finds suspended police officer Claire (Cassandra Magrath) returning to the small Australian country town where she was raised after the death of her father. She is beckoned there by her Uncle Cliff (John Voce) who is a keeper of dangerous secrets regarding their family legacy. 

When Claire arrives, the place of her childhood is crippled by a collective fear. 

The streets are deserted, residents have run away, and the local economy is all but nonexistent. There is an ever-present evil that has taken up residency and has infected one and all. But has that darkness always been there? Claire’s dark past lies waiting in the shadows and threatens to reveal itself in the light.

Whithead crafts her film slowly, never hurrying the scares but gently pulling her audience through a terrifying tunnel of witchcraft and evil. This is a haunted mystery on a path from which we cannot deviate. 

Claire is tormented by the memories of her involvement with a suicidal man where she couldn’t save his life. This was the incident that would lead to her suspension from the force and it is this very emotional trauma that will be the key to bonding Claire’s past and future. 

Director Whithead unravels the horrors scene by scene, increasing the tension through natural light and eerie darkness created by her cinematographer Paul Hughes. Their combined talents assure a constant unearthly terror to saturate every moment, keeping the macabre atmosphere intact from beginning to end. 

Markey’s story and dialogue play well thanks to the commitment from the entire cast and especially the patient and focused direction from Kate Whithead. 

The filmmaker doesn’t overload her work with CGI (the disease of many modern Horror films). Whithead’s film wants to put the audience at unease from the very start. When the supernatural meets the “human” aspects, a palpable terror is found.

Skillfully crafted and truly spine-chilling, “Witches of Blackwood” is an exceptionally good Horror tale, and a great head start to the season of frights. 

NR, 100 Minutes, Head Gear Films/KW Films