THE WIDOW (aka VDOVA, 2020)
Directed by Ivan Minin.
Written by Natalya Dubovaya, Ivan Kapitonov, Ivan Minin.
Starring Viktotiya Potemina, Anastasiya Gribova, Margarita Bychkova, Ilya Agapov, Aleksey Aniskin, Konstantin Nesterenko, Oleg Chugunov
A group of rescue workers find themselves lost in the deeply forested countryside of St. Petersburg, Russia, home to the legend of a witch who steals souls and torments the living in the darkness of a night that seems to never end.
THE WIDOW begins strong with a set up that is pretty much exactly like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, shaky cam and all. The first portion of this film adheres to the first person POV as we go through a practice run with a group of rescue workers as they attempt to find, bind, and rescue a person who seems to have injured himself in a cave. The footage is shaky, which exudes the intended feelings of anxiety and immediate danger. Reminiscent of the first few moments of another classic found footage film REC (remade as QUARANTINE in the States) where we are given a quick tutorial of the job of the rescue workers, practicing their techniques and providing a deep sense of foreboding given that we know this is a horror film and horrors most definitely are on their way.
The problem is that the further into THE WIDOW we get, the more it begins to forget it is a found footage film. What began as a film with action solely captured within a camera, soon adds music, multiple edits from cameras that are not established, and long shots of the action from perspectives outside of the film reality. Within moments, THE WIDOW loses its first person POV charm and effectiveness and becomes a regular old, cinematically shot film. For some, that’s not an issue. I know there are those who won’t even notice this transition, but for me, it feels like a missed opportunity. It also feels like a horrible cheat as, when it is advantageous for a suspenseful scene, they switch back to first person POV. It seems this is a found footager only when it benefits the film, but if the story needs to be told and it falls outside of the first person parameters, it’s just a regular old film. This fast and loose play with the “rules” of found footage might not bother you, but it really soured the film for me.
And it’s too bad they couldn’t just stick with the format, because while there are vast similarities between the Widow and the Blair Witch, the film manages to be downright spooky, atmospheric, and effectively shocking at times. The use of natural elements such as hay, muddy reeds, cornfields, and freezing rivers really make for an unpredictable and dangerous environment for our rescuers to be lost in. There are some nicely timed jump scares and some effective elements that make for a skin-crawling good time.
I want you to take a look at the poster for THE WIDOW for a second. That’s a twisted, scary-ass image of the Widow right there with a hunched back, two faces, and thorns jutting out from all over. It’s too bad we never see the Widow or anything like that amazing imagery in the film itself. Why put an awesome monster like that on the poster art if there is nothing like it inside? I do know, had something like that had shown up, I might have liked THE WIDOW more. As is, it fails to even deliver the monster on the cover. I can look past the similarities to BLAIR WITCH and the fact that this is supposed to be filmed in 2017, yet the news reports on the radio mention former President Trump, but THE WIDOW felt like a sham that can’t stick to its own rules and never delivers the monsters it teases us with all the way through. It’s rich in atmosphere and has quite a few well done scenes of tension and terror, but that’s about it.