Witches are getting a bad rap lately. Jiří Sádek’s Czech horror film The Noonday Witch won’t do them any favours.
Early word for The Noonday Witch suggests it will make you terrified of the daylight. Yes that last bastion of places not ruined by horror movies has finally been tarnished. Poor unassuming daylight where nothing bad ever happens. It’s nighttime where all the freaks and weirdos hang out, right?
Now anybody who has surreptitiously sneaked into a Wetherspoons to use the toilets on a weekday afternoon will attest, there are just as many freaks and weirdoes hanging around in the day as the night. Being terrified is not the preserve of the shadows.
But The Noonday Witch is one of those rare horrors where the scarier moments take place in the blazing hot sun, surrounded by rolling wheat fields and gorgeous countryside. So for that it gets a prize. Where it then gets its prize yanked away from its spindly witchy hands is for not making the most of its potential and being FAR FAR FAR too similar to The Babadook.
The basic set up to The Noonday Witch is enough to keep you initially hooked. Recently widowed Eliska and her eight-year-old daughter Anetka move to a remote country house for a fresh start. However Anetka doesn’t know the truth about her father, all she knows is that he’s ‘away on business’.
The dilapidated country house they move into is also where the father grew up, and the locals they interact with – mostly ruddy faced alcoholics with wandering eyes – all knew him well. These moments play out wonderfully. The awkward interactions between sympathetic locals, the fragile tension between mother and daughter, the frankly fucking terrifying presence of older neighbour Anezka – all add a nice depth of character to the story. This is helped by the beautiful cinematography that makes those giant fields of yellow seem so dreadfully portentous and there’s an equally oppressive and moving score from UK composer Ben Corrigan.
But then director Jiří Sádek manages to fudge the important stuff – in particular Anetka’s uncovering of the truth, which seems too muddied in ambiguity to really hit home. Likewise the souring of the mother and daughter’s relationship and Eliska’s mania, which summons the titular early-rising witch, seems to come out of nowhere.
You also can’t help but compare it to Jennifer Kent’s far superior The Babadook. Yes the top-hatted pants-ruiner occupied the shadows rather than the baking sun, but The Noonday Witch hits exactly the same story beats and themes.
There are some very effective jump scares, particularly in the first third and the performances from Anna Geislerová, Karolína Lipowská are excellent but the promise of a pastoral thriller to match A Field in England or The Wicker Man sadly evaporates in the sun. 3/5