Deep in the throes of the English Civil War, two soldiers from opposing sides are tormented by an elusive forest-dwelling witch. This premise has the potential for lurking unease and period-specific terrors that make films like Robert Eggers’ The Witch and Christopher Smith’s Black Death such interesting experiments. George Popov and Jonathan Russell are able to capture this unique vibe initially. However, while Hex does have a few stand-out moments of artistic flair, it is undone by its stagnant pacing, atrocious fight choreography, and a nagging habit of completely ruining its own atmosphere.
Richard (Daniel Oldroyd) is a battle-hardened Royalist veteran, who barely managed to survive a small battle, claiming a marginal victory as the skirmish’s sole survivor. When running across the pious Thomas (William Young), a young Parliamentarian soldier passing through the neighboring woods, the two begin a lengthy duel that passes a decrepit church defaced with occult imagery. Soon it becomes apparent that the surrounding woods is plagued by the magic of a witch (Suzie Frances Garton), forcing the pair to put aside the larger conflict to survive and leave the forest.
“…the two begin a lengthy duel that passes a decrepit church defaced with occult imagery.”
The opening credits sequence does everything right – swirling shot compositions traipsing the remains of a medieval battlefield while some truly eerie music drones away in the background. I honestly was raring to go by the time it ended, yet, even though there are a handful of stunning shots captured by cinematographer Harry Young, and a monologue conducted by Oldroyd in the latter half of the film is well-performed, that’s roughly where the best parts of the film end. Even Nino Russell’s musical score lives on a sliding scale of quality, never quite regaining the chilling opening, and many instances just feel like atmospheric supplements rather than legitimate enhancements.
There is an absolute lack of atmosphere or any semblance of mounting tension throughout the runtime, largely aided by the wooden performances of its cast (especially Young). Even if Hex is intended as a contemplative slow-burn where we are absorbed into the mental gymnastics of the characters, we spend most of the time waiting for absolutely anything to happen. Literally — long stretches of the film consists of nothing but the cast waiting on-screen until the witch comes in with twenty seconds of spookiness before moving on to the next waiting room.
“…quick cuts and editing tricks by Bohos Topakbashian manage to mitigate the pain…”
There are several minor debates on the morality of war and true “evil,” after our introduction to these characters is defined by a nearly twenty-five-minute meandering fight down a wooded hillside. This trickling segment is hallmarked by attacks, parrys, and blocks that scream out “we’re not really trying to make any realistic physical contact” – quick cuts and editing tricks by Bohos Topakbashian manage to mitigate the pain a little, but nothing can improve the aimless and robotic blocking.
I find it difficult to believe even the most die-hard fans (like myself) of creeping, atmospheric thrillers and horrors can find many redeeming qualities in this plodding slog. Hex does have a few tidbits going for it, and an always-interesting premise and time period, yet it ultimately undermines all the good that is wrung out of its stale tale.
Hex (2017) Directed by George Popov, Jonathan Russell. Written by George Popov, Jonathan Russell. Starring Tony Broadbent, Suzie Frances Garton, Daniel Oldroyd, William Young.
3 out of 10