A scrappy little import, “Nightsiren” tackles the themes of witchcraft and superstition far better than most Hollywood productions.
There seem to be two types of witch movies out there in popular culture: the over-the-top camp of films like The Craft, with the spells being cast coming across more like Jedi and Sith warriors using the Force, and the more grounded tales that tie witchcraft and magic to something a little more subdued and natural.
Both have their place and time, as well as their hits and misses, but as someone who is friends with a Wiccan practitioner, the more realistic tales are the ones that seem to resonate more.
Of course, what you get out of these movies is heavily predicated upon what you bring with you to begin with. Some people want to be entertained by movies, some want to bask in the elicited emotions, while others want to be educated. I see no reason why a good film cannot accomplish all three things at the same time.
Suffice it to say, Nightsiren does all three things with gusto.
The film’s synopsis on IMDb is as follows:
A young woman returns to her native mountain village, searching for answers about her troubled childhood, but as she tries to uncover the truth, ancient superstitions lead the villagers to accuse her of witchcraft and murder.
Directed by Tereza Nvotová from a screenplay by Tereza Nvotová and Barbora Namorova, Nightsiren was released on Sept. 22, 2023.
Despite it being 35-year-old Tereza’s sophomore feature, it feels like it was directed by someone with decades of experience.
She has a bright future ahead of her in filmmaking, regardless of the genre she chooses to shoot.
I honestly had a hard time reviewing this one. That’s certainly because it’s a bad film (it’s really quite phenomenal, despite what the IMDb reviews would have you believe), but because this is truly a film for women, written and directed by women, with the ultimate goal of empowering women.
While watching it, I almost felt like I had stumbled into something that I should not be a part of. Something secret. Something sacred.
As such, coming from a male viewpoint, even one as far removed from the whole “dude bro” mentality as possible, I can only hope that my review does the film justice.
That said, I do feel that most men could benefit from watching Nightsiren.
There’s a message here. A statement… and a mirror. It even encouraged me to look at some of my own behavioral choices from the past (nowhere near as egregious as what is portrayed here, mind you) and do a little self-reflection.
Unfortunately, I feel like most men will just be like, “Oooh, tiddies!” and call it a day.
But for those willing to actually let the message sink in, it can be a great yardstick to measure their own actions and thought processes against.
Less a straight-up horror film and more a rumination on family, femininity, and toxic masculinity, Nightsiren is the kind of movie that rarely gets made by big-budget studios here in the States.
Yes, there are horrific elements that crop up, but they’re more of the “evils that men do” sort rather than actual monsters.
It truly is a modern-day fable for the witchcraft stories of history, primarily focusing on the dangers of tradition and superstition.
And yet, there’s more to it than that.
We also get an examination of the power and unreliability of our childhood memories and interpretations. In addition, the themes of motherhood, whether by blood or found family, are threaded through the proceedings, providing a subtle backdrop for the narrative as a whole.
Indeed, Nightsiren is a smorgasbord of moments both big and small, heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Regret, loss, trauma, and repression are posted up alongside whimsy, attraction, laughter, and catharsis. It really does a good job of touching on nearly every human emotion and experience within its runtime.
If you’ve listened to any of Morbidly Beautiful’s No Notes or Guilty Pleasures podcasts, then you’ll know that I usually struggle when a film tries to juggle too many topics or themes at once, as by and large, one or more of the elements suffers in the attempt.
With Nightsiren, however, each topic, genre, and facet is given equal weight, each handled just as effectively as the rest.
While I tend to dislike direct comparisons to other movies (especially vaunted ones), I feel that it won’t hurt in this regard. If you are a fan of movies like The VVitch, Suspiria, Midsommar, and yes, even Eyes Wide Shut, then you’ll likely find yourself enjoying Nightsiren.
It has elements of all of those films, yet capably and fearlessly stands on its own.
Visually and aurally arresting, this is the kind of movie that I would expect to be produced by A24, and I mean that as a huge compliment.
The cinematography is sumptuous, vacillating between gorgeous establishing shots and up-close shots of both quiet intimacy and extreme ugliness.
Pay no mind to the fact that it’s a foreign film; Nightsiren is absolutely greater than the sum of its parts and puts many of the Hollywood studios’ attempts at “big budget with indie appeal” offerings to shame.
I have to hand it to these Slovakian actors – they go ALL in with their performances. There’s not a bad thespian in the bunch.
I often read an article or see a post about how “brave” some Hollywood actress was for getting a little “less pretty” on screen. But if you want to see true bravery, one needs to look no further than Nightsiren, as a few of these actresses really put it all out there. The unflinching performances are the highlights of an already incredible movie.
As the audience’s proxy, Natália Germáni, as the mercurial main character Sarlota, is brilliantly cast.
This is largely her movie, and she gets put through the wringer both physically and emotionally, but Natália is absolutely up to the task, bringing her A-game to every scene. Stoic one moment, crushed by emotion the next, she is utterly compelling, selling her character’s drama with the verve of a much older actress.
Where a lot of thespians are okay with getting a little ugly, Natália pulls no punches whatsoever.
Our other main character, Mira, is portrayed by Eva Mores, and she is every bit as convincing and captivating. Complicated and flighty, Mira is a character that requires a little more nuance and subtlety, and Eva never misses a beat.
Where Sarlota represents the curvier aspect of womanhood, the “expected body norm,” if you will, Mira is lithe and almost androgynous at times, representing another aspect of the female form. It doesn’t make her any less of a woman, merely less overtly feminine.
The rest of the women, from the knowledgeable village elder to another young woman who is grappling with her sexuality, are all perfectly cast and do a ridiculous amount of emotional heavy lifting.
The actors, along with everyone involved with the casting of this movie, deserve a raise.
As for the men, they run the gamut between creepy old bastards, young hotheads, and everything in between. There really is only one sympathetic or innocent male in the movie, Rado, played by Noël Czuczor, and even his inclusion feels almost like an afterthought. He’s really only there to serve as a symbol of separation from Sarlota’s life prior to returning to the village, allowing her to break free of some of the shackles of her past.
And, given the themes of Nightsiren, that is totally understandable and acceptable.
The village where the film takes place is almost a character unto itself, lending both majesty and menace to the proceedings.
Nightsiren does an admirable job of showing both sides of living in such seclusion: yes, there can be a strong sense of community within a small populace, but there is also no privacy, and when said community is united in awful behavior and beliefs, there is really no place to hide.
Also, this is a foreign film that has no interest in catering to the masses abroad.
There is no explanation of the culture on display, no exposition as to why the people still hold so tightly to superstition, and no backstory for the cultural customs that the townspeople partake in. The audience is expected to either know it already or catch up quickly. I appreciate this lack of handholding.
I won’t lie… Nightsiren requires patience and investment.
Those in the mood for a quick witch movie should look elsewhere.
With a runtime of nearly two hours, the film hoards its reveals like a miser, only dishing them out near the end. Astute viewers will likely solve some of the mysteries early, but that will do nothing to diminish their impact.
It also ends on a somewhat ambiguous note, but I came away from it leaning towards a cathartic ending, which seems only fitting given all of the hardships the main characters have faced.
On the technical side of things, I have no quibbles.
As stated before, this is a stunning film. The natural beauty of the Slovakian mountains cannot be understated, and the cinematography drinks it all in like fine wine. The audio is solid, the costuming is on point, the set design is perfect (I think this was filmed on location, so it feels real), and the soundtrack is pitch-perfect. Whoever did the subtitles deserves kudos as well: they are the perfect size, easy to see, and timed perfectly to the events unfolding on screen.
For those who need a little more detail before they dive in, be warned that Nightsiren includes violence towards women, mild violence towards children, attempted rape, and a fever dream sapphic orgy that is so artistically lit and shot that it’s truly a thing of haunting beauty.
I could easily write a few more thousand words as to why this is such an amazing film, but anything more at this point would sound disingenuous.
Just support this creation and its cast and crew by giving it a watch and a recommendation to friends and family. It truly deserves all the love it can get.