Gripping, mysterious, and atmospheric, “Falling Stars” is a fine folk horror film that manages to do a lot with very little.
Falling Stars begins with a brief bit of lore.
Every year, by the full moon of late October, witches from high use the night as cover to descend onto Earth’s harvest. Skygazers say they resemble fallen stars.
Cut to a girl running with her dogs at dawn on a deserted road. Suddenly, she looks up at the sky and sees an incredibly bright star. The next instance, she has vanished, and her leashed dogs are running free down the road.
A warning message goes out over the radio urging residents to stay inside for their safety. Meanwhile, a late-night DJ, Barry (J. Aaron Boykin), encourages his producer, Elana (Samantha Turret), to patch through anyone who claims to have seen something, no matter how paranoid or delusional they sound.
He then goes on air to offer a brief history lesson about the origins of the mid-October ‘Harvest’ that has just begun.
Next, we meet three brothers sitting around a fire and keeping an eye on the sky. Their dad comes out to yell at them, warning them to get inside before anything bad happens. They shrug it off and continue to engage in a ritual designed to trap a witch, but they are missing a key ingredient.
If the spell doesn’t work, the older brother, Mike (Shaun Duke Jr.), muses, we’ll have to shoot the witch instead.
His younger brothers Sal (Andrew Gabriel) and Adam (Rene Leech) balk; no one has ever been able to kill a witch, they insist. But Mike insists his friend did, in fact, kill one and has her buried out in the desert. He asks his brothers if they want to go see it, and they hop in the truck to visit Mike’s friend, Rob (Greg Poppa).
Along the way, the radio warns of an emergency curfew warning under the guise of a National Weather Service wind advisory, but everyone knows what the real threat is.
As Rob prepares to take Mike and his brothers out to dig up a buried witch, making up a story about digging for Valerian, his wife Meg (Orianna Milne) urges him not to go, warning that it’s not safe and to think of their two-year-old daughter.
After some talk about the nature of witches and their tendency to co-mingle with demons, they arrive at the gravesite and dig up the witch, mesmerized at seeing one with their own eyes for the first time, something no one else has ever been able to claim with any credibility.
But an accidental mishap and a shocking discovery turn curiosity into terror.
The brothers begin to fear they’ve been marked and will never be safe from the wrath of the witches.
Falling Stars is a small film, but it’s exceedingly well executed.
The performances are universally strong, especially Duke Jr. as the eldest brother and Diane Worman as the boys’ mom.
Worman only has one scene, but it’s a powerful one, and she delivers a spellbinding emotional monologue about her history with witches before demanding Mike return to the scene of the incident to right his wrong.
Though it’s a gore-less film where not much happens in the way of big frights or special effects, it’s far from dull.
Dark, moody, and mysterious, directors Gabriel Bienczycki and Richard Karpala, who also wrote the script, do a great job of drawing you in and keeping you wriggling on the hook while wondering what’s coming next.
Some scenes felt a bit unnecessary and used to pad the runtime, which is an already lean 80 minutes, and I felt the ending wasn’t quite as strong as the beginning. But ultimately, I really enjoyed the unique premise and outstanding storytelling.
A great slice of modern folk horror, Falling Stars is a treat for fans of creative storytelling and inventive indie filmmaking.