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BUFF 2023 Nightsiren Review- Hypnotic, Dark Fairy Tale About Witchy Women And The Men Who Destroy Them

Violence is always cyclical in Tereza Nvotová’s gorgeous witchy tale, Nightsiren, of feminist power and the evils of complacency.

A soul sister of German mesmeric Hagazussa, Nightsiren, playing at Boston Underground Film Fest 2023, is a brooding, wild look at repressed and exuberant womanhood. There isn’t any infant eating, thank god, yet the same thread of violent men, fear, and abuse is presented in the majesty of a rural village.

Charlotte, a painfully raw Natalia Germani, has returned to her childhood village after her mother’s death to settle her estate. She is there reluctantly, and the place doesn’t hold good memories for her. The bucolic setting holds pain in its soil and misogyny in the very roots of the trees. This is the kind of pace where it is better to have a man that beats you than have no man at all. Women are expected to be chaste, obedient, and quiet even when their masculine counterparts are stupid, cruel, or wrong.

Charlotte has a troubled past with the area. A family tragedy cost her the little sister she simultaneously loved and was irritated by. That event changed her life for the better and the worse, and it still haunts her. Her mother was abusive, and Charlotte ran away, risking starvation rather than being beaten to death. When she returns home all these years later, little has changed. Everyone is still judgemental, and the underlying problems have only gotten worse. No one is excited to see her save free-spirited Mira, an enigmatic but effervescent Eva Mores. She is the town herbalist and someone that is tolerated if not trusted. The two women strike up a close friendship that sets everyone on a course to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Nvotová is adept at showing the societal pressures of womanhood within the confines of a tiny story. Although Nightsiren is Charlotte’s story, it speaks to every woman. Toxic masculinity and ignorance are a deadly cocktail. This story is steeped in both. The beautiful film uses the backdrop of irrational fears of witchcraft and magical realism to convey a message. Demons, magic, and witchery are not the evils here; it’s us. The men who browbeat and belittle women into place and the women who become willing participants are to blame.

The soundtrack by Robin Coudert and Pjoni is hypnotic as it wails and invokes strong emotions. This is the sort of music that calls back to an ancient time when banshees and sirens called to unsuspecting men. Like a monastic chant, the plaintiff notes cry of loss, rage, and grief.

Nightsiren doesn’t waste an instant showing more than telling how deep the rot here is. Charlotte is immediately doubted, and her relationship with the town hippie only worsens that. She is forced to reckon with her demons when the past begins repeating itself. Pacing is meticulous, avoiding the pitfalls some of these thoughtful horror movies don’t. It is never indulgent; instead, choosing a stripped-down approach that is only skewed from in a hallucinatory orgy that must be seen to believe.

There’s a line from the guilty pleasure Couples Retreat where Jason Bateman’s Jason tells his wife Cynthia(Kristen Bell) she looks “bountiful” and of the “Earth.” This comedy from John Favreau, Vince Vaugh, and Dana Fox gives us a Balinese island designed to help couples reconnect. Cynthia and Jason are on the island to work through their problems, trying to conceive. Jason’s compliment to Cynthia is meant to be funny because although that sounds like a nice thing to say to a woman trying to conceive a child, it’s weird and adds pressure when none is needed. That sentiment, however, fits in Nightsiren in an undulating dreamy, pulsating sex scene that can only be described as bountiful and of the Earth.

The sultry dance sequence that precedes the dreamy forest orgy makes the difference between the male and female gaze clear. One is suspicious and predatory, while the other is unbridled and nurturing. Like in life, sex should be collaborative. It should be an equal exchange of effort and pleasure. Nightsiren captures that disparity in this conservative rural town.

Although told through a decidedly genre lens, this is a hyper-realistic fairy tale about the things that contort what it means to be a woman. The cinematography by Robin Coudert allows the story to ping pong, jarringly between the natural beauty of the environment and the violence of the community. The village may look stunning, but it hides a heart of ugliness.

Nightsiren is dreamy and hallucinogenic until it becomes nightmarish. The juxtaposition of the idyllic town and the flawed inhabitants sells the conceit here. This is both a character-driven drama and a thinly veiled dark fable about age-old fears and prejudices. It’s beautiful, painful, well-acted, and entirely too relevant. Find all our BUFF 2023 coverage here.