Imagine that The Blair Witch Project and Audrey Rose had an unholy child that was also genetically influenced by the orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut and a tiny puritanical slice of that oft-banned middle-school classic, The Witch of Blackbird Pond. And zombies. Zombies in all their necrotic, red-eyed glory. Such are the hodgepodge influences that Breaking Glass Pictures’ Flee the Light invokes, intentionally or not.
Either way, screenwriter Jennifer Mancini and director Alexandra Senza’s jumbled tale of two sisters dealing with all manner of supernatural woes is abubble with good ideas.
Alas, the execution of these ideas leans on the cliche-est of witch cliches and a plot that sometimes feels like Mancini decided to throw every supernatural trope she could think of like spaghetti against wallpaper, hoping one might stick as the narrative through line. Exorcisms, demons, girls wildly dancing in their nighties under a full moon, zombification, reincarnation, witches, ghosts, and possession all come into play as the plot lurches along. So does psychosis. Or does it? But I get ahead of myself.
The mishmashed story involves Andra (Annie Tuma) and her oracle-y named sister Delphi (Ariana Marquis). Delphi is plagued by buzzing visions of cloaked women biting into nefarious-looking fruit, among other alarming specters. She is certain something evil stalks her. Her vision wavers, skitters, and blurs, often replaying a brutal underwater struggle that leaves her dazed and gasping for air.
Andra is convinced her sister is suffering from mental health issues—specifically, psychosis. Yet at Delphi’s insistence (and in one of many plot head-scratchers, even for a supernatural tale), the sisters embark on a road trip to find the locale of the coven Delphi is certain she practiced with in previous lives. They stay in a massive cabin in the woods, its abject isolation and vulnerability emphasized in one of many, many aerial shots of said woods and the lonely ribbon of road leading in and out of them.
The windows in the place are plentiful, allowing for countless shots of the sisters staring into glass, reality distorted and wavering in its reflections. It’s effective. To a point. Senza relies too heavily on repetition. The aerial shots are beautifully, effectively done. Ditto the underwater scenes and the night skies with their copious full moons. But Senza repeats them all again and again and they start to feel like crutches.
Then there’s the matter of the witch the sisters encounter on their journey. “Old Witch” Kata (Jane Siberry) looks like she was painted according to a Goth Makeup Tutorial from a middle schooler on the TikToks: heavy eyeliner, death-pall complexion somewhere between mint and flour, dark lips, flowy hooded cape-cloak garb. She’s the Morpheus for Hecate’s sake. She deserves better than Ren Faire cast-offs styled by Party City by way of the Halloween store.
The plot becomes convoluted about midway through, but really, all you need are the broad strokes. Something called The Darkness is out to get the sisters, and a sacrifice will be required. A hopping underground club is also critically involved. So is a therapist who brings yet another trope, hypnosis (complete with the swinging pendulum and the ability to knock out his patients and resurrect their past lives in less time than it takes to microwave a cup of coffee) into play.
The mishmashed storyline isn’t helped by the dialogue, which is more wooden than a wooden spoon and clunkier than a broken broomstick. None of it seems spontaneous. There’s a consistent deliberateness that comes across as the opposite of organic conversation. It’s tough to say whether it’s all on the script or some combination of the script, the direction, and the acting. I’d put the onus on the first two.
Flee the Light
81 min. Wide release on VOD February 15
As Delphi, Marquis alternates terror and ferocity like a born scream queen. The wilder the visions, the more intensely Marquis depicts the wild-eyed fear of someone desperately scared of losing all control and certain they are about to do so. Tuma, meanwhile, tears into Andra’s necrotic journey for all it’s worth.
Flee the Light has other powers, too, Danny Colomby’s score first among them. It’s subtly creeptastic, often instilling the scenes with an eerie tension that makes the story seem ominous even when it’s actually ridiculous.
Moreover, Senza is deft and then some at making the smallest, most innocuous moments—a tiny breeze on the neck, the fold of a drape—feel absolutely blood-chilling. She’s much better at creating fear in those moments than she is with special effects, which range from Lost in Space (the original) to The Amityville Horror (likewise.) That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
There’s a scene in an underground club where Delphi has a vision—or maybe it’s a psychotic break—and what’s happening with her head merges with the club’s aggressive lighting and sound. The place is Medusa’s-on-Saturday-night packed, lights pulsing and music thumping. Senza blurs the real and the unreal until it’s hard to tell which is which. It’s effectively disorienting.
Still, it doesn’t add up to a satisfying supernatural thriller so much as it hints at the possibility of greater darkness to come from Senza.