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Sorcery ★★



Director: Christopher Murray

Cast: Valentina Véliz Caileo, Daniel Antivilo, Sebastian Hülk, Daniel Muñoz

Released: Sundance Film Festival 2023

Directed by Christopher Murray and co-written by Pablo Paredes, Sorcery (OV: Brujería) is a follow-up to his 2016 film The Blind Christ. Based on real-life events from the 1880s, the film follows a young girl, Rosa Rain (Valentina Véliz Caileo), who seeks justice after her father is mercilessly killed.

Set on the Chilean island of Chiloé, Sorcery sets itself with a simple yet horrifying opening as Rosa, a 13-year-old Christian Indigenous servant of a German household, witnesses her father being mauled to death by the family’s dogs after being accused of slaughtering the settlers’ lambs. With nowhere to go, she seeks refuge with Mateo Parancán (Daniel Antivilo), a Huilliche village outsider. She soon discovers that Mateo is involved in supernatural activities, and she spurs him to help seek vengeance on the settlers, with mysterious yet arduous consequences.

With touches reminiscent of The VVitch and The Crucible, there is a lot going on in Sorcery that makes it hard to pin down. In addition to Rosa’s need for vengeance but there is a conflict between German settlers and Huilliche Indigenous peoples, as well as the complex history of Chiloé. So not only is Sorcery a revenge drama, but it explores aspects of history, politics, and cultural and spiritual identity while presenting itself as a supernatural horror. With so many strings to play, Murray struggles to keep them in tune, and the narrative and screenplay subsequently stagger slowly under the weight of Rosa’s continued efforts for justice, which caves under a prominent witch hunt driven by the settlers and the disinterested and embittered mayor (Daniel Muñoz).

Some ambiguity goes towards Mateo’s identity, considering his taciturn and secretive nature. So when Rosa discovers his involvement in witchcraft, its lack of clarity leaves the audience guessing the true objectives of Recta Provincia regarding the settlers. Although the film provides some insight as to the group’s abilities, especially to those who wrong them, it missed a chance to bring additional context into the real-life Warlock of Chiloé and a deeper look into the Huilliche people.

But Sorcery isn’t a complete misfire. Murray’s atmospheric, spine-tingling direction allows the supernatural and aggression in the community. This drives the narrative through the middling times and creates a tension that divides its characters and heightens the mystery of Recta Provincia. In addition, newcomer Véliz Caileo holds the film on her shoulders by delivering a determined performance with a glint in her eye and an underlying compassion that provides a slither of salvation for her character.
In his fourth feature film, Murray takes his time to explore Indigenous peoples and their traditions that, unfortunately, cause Sorcery’s narrative to struggle. Along with its nihilistic tone and murkiness surrounding its characters, its supernatural horror and revenge film elements, not to mention Véliz Caileo’s performance, fail to keep it afloat.

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