Writer/director Fabián Forte’s Witch Game (Juego de brujas; Argentina, 2023) is a dark fantasy/horror feature that feels like a near-perfect hybrid of a teen horror film and stronger gruesome elements. It looks fantastic, and boasts top-notch direction and fine performances.
Teen gamer Mara (Lourdes Mansilla) is rebellious and wants little to nothing to do with her family, as her parents have canceled a planned party for her upcoming 18th birthday. She is the recipient of a package left on her family’s doorstep by a stranger. She pricks her finger while trying to open the wooden box inside the package and, voila, a drop of her blood is the key needed. Inside the box are a pair of gloves and virtual reality gaming glasses. She puts them on and sees Aram, a self-proclaimed powerful witch who offers to help Mara get a magical wand of power.
Mara becomes obsessed with the game and increasingly defiant, leaving her 14-year-old sister Sofia (Denise Barbara), their father Oscar (Martin Borisenko), and their mother Susana (Alexia Moyano) waiting downstairs at the kitchen table with a cake to celebrate her birthday. Mara sneaks outside to argue with her boyfriend Marcos (Sebastian Sinnot), further upsetting her father. She locks herself in her bedroom after shouting “Die!” at him, and as her father pounds on the door demanding that she come out, Mara puts on her virtual reality glasses, the power in the house goes out, and Sofia goes missing. The younger sister has been taken to an alternate realm by a powerful demon, and three self-proclaimed guides — Leonel Arrieda (Ezequiel Rodriguez), Astrid Kyteler (Virginia Lombardo), and Bea Magyar (Natalia Grinberg) — show up to help Mara strengthen her occult powers so that she can defeat the demon and get her sister back.
Forte, who wrote and helmed the terrific Legions (2022), has crafted a visually stunning film, set in the family’s home and the mystical alternate reality home of the enigmatic game. The attention to detail in the gorgeous, elaborate set and costume design is something to behold, and cinematographer Nicolás Gorla captures everything beautifully. Special effects coordinator Franco Burattini and his crew have done marvelous work, as the CGI effects look highly impressive, as do the blood-strewn practical effects and makeup work, which is plentiful.
Composer Eric Kuschevatsky provides a wonderful score, providing unique new spins on classic fantasy film music.
Mansilla leads a rather sizable main cast with a memorable performance as a young woman who wants to live life her own way, not as her parents want her to, and who gets an unexpected opportunity to do so through the mysterious virtual reality game she anonymously receives. Her character’s path to hopeful power is not an easy one, and Mansilla does a superb job of running the gamut of emotions from glee to despair. The supporting players all give fine turns, with the trio playing the guides having several opportunities to show their strength of craft.
Forte has a proven eye for and love of horror cinema, which shows once again with Witch Game. He begins his film with archetypal coming of age fear-fare themes and leads viewers down a much darker path than expected. Forte’s work is enriched with thoughtfully crafted characterization and multifaceted storytelling, and is one reason why Argentian horror cinema is becoming so beloved by fans of the genre around the world.(4 / 5)
Witch Game screens as part of Fantaspoa, which takes place April 13–30, 2023, in Porto Alegre, Brazil.