Review: Kyle Rankin’s The Witch Files

With The Witch still fresh in everyone’s mind and the “Charmed” reboot heading to television in less than two weeks, the release of The Witch Files is quite timely, to say the least. Although, it deviates its own path in Wiccan film history, while also coming off as a teen-aimed mix of The Craft and Mean Girls. The previous press release from Dark Sky Films states this as well, leading me to believe that we’re all in agreement that The Witch Files has a very specific audience. I want to make that abundantly clear from the get go – I don’t think members of the horror community will dig this movie if they’re over the age of 21. Everyone 21 and younger, especially women, should give this one a chance, especially around Halloween season. It’s spooky, magical fun with drama, mystery and a pinch of action thrown into the cauldron. Based on the screenplay by Kyle Rankin and Larry Blamire, The Witch Files follows five friends from different social circles who are thrust into the world of witchcraft after the new girl at school shows off her powers during detention. As their powers grow, and they begin to make any reality happen, one of their members defects from the coven and threatens them all. Then, it’s a battle against nature, magic and time as the remaining members rally to stop the evil that surrounds them and vows to take their lives. Directed by Kyle Rankin, The Witch Files stars Holly Taylor, Alice Ziolkowski, Britt Flatmo, Adrienne Rose White, Tara Robinson, Valerie Mahaffey, Paget Brewster, Ranin Brown and Jared Boghosian.

Told partially through a documentary (thus giving off a found footage feel) and traditional narrative story-telling, The Witch Files captivated me at first when the characters mentioned that their town was rumored to have burned witches at the stake 300 years ago. To me, witchcraft is a forgotten subgenre of horror and fantasy, and I’m very happy to see that films like The Witch Files are trying to keep that torch burning. However, having seen so many movies and television shows and reading about Wicca and witchcraft, the script gets somewhat problematic when it comes to the basic fundamentals of the craft. You should never use magic for personal gain and/or revenge. That’s abusing magic, and it often comes with a price. This can be seen with the lead characters growing sicker and more debilitated as they used their powers more. I will give this praise for originality because I don’t think genre fans have seen this in a film yet – the body breaking down as the aura grows stronger. It’s a clever plot element worked into the movie, but I still would have liked to see more rules and regulations followed. And don’t get me started on the chanting. Obnoxious repetition and weak writing from the guys behind-the-scenes. Even if they used a made up language, I could have appreciated that more.

And this was my problem with The Witch Files overall. There is so much give and take that I don’t know how I’m going to rate this at the end. There were so many things that I liked, and so many things that made me go “why did they do that?” For starters, let’s be positive, I loved that the girls were duped by a half finished spell. Reading that was never a good idea, much in the same vein as Evil Dead. Don’t read phrases out loud that you’re not sure of! I loved that the main character is a high school journalist and captures her stories on camera because I did a lot of that myself in my younger years. So, I found some sort of relation with her enough to root for her survival. I liked the camera work and the cinematography, with the lake fire pit scene being my favorite in terms of look and quality. And I liked that the villain who sweeps in at the end had a definite and hidden agenda that transcended basic high school drama. She was more calculated than I expected. What I didn’t like, though, was some of the questionable acting. The girls do a fantastic job…at times, and other times needed another take to really perfect what they needed to convey. I also didn’t like that the production, as a whole, tried to accomplish too much with not enough budget. That resulted in some scenes and CGI coming off a little hokey.

The Witch Files was produced by Kyle Rankin, Scy Taylor, Holly Taylor and Paget Brewster. It features cinematography from Aitor Uribarri and editing by Kent Beyda and Tony Copolillo. I’m going to be honest. Being a somewhat independent and tamer version of The Craft meets Mean Girls wasn’t enough to sell me, which sucks because I really wanted to love this movie. I mean, yay witches! Fortunately, you get the opportunity to see the movie for yourself when it hits DVD on October 9th 2018 courtesy of Dark Sky Films. It will also be available on digital platforms, and that’s where I think your money is better spent. Overall, I’m not sure if The Witch Files is worth a full DVD purchase, but it’s certainly worth the price of a digital stream. It missed the mark for me, maybe because I’m outside of the target demographic other than liking witches, but it wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great, either. Cool poster art, though. Final Score: 5.5 out of 10.

Written by Michael Therkelsen

(Senior Editor)