Review by Sean Boelman
Pablo Larraín is one of the highest-profile Latin American filmmakers working today, so when he attaches himself to a project as a producer, you know you’re in for something special. The Larraín-produced Sorcery, directed by Christopher Murray, is undeniably one of the most visually striking films in the Sundance lineup this year, overcoming an occasionally ineffective script with arresting imagery.
The movie follows a young girl who, after the brutal murder of her father, seeks refuge in an Indigenous community where she learns the art of witchcraft, only for the local colonial authorities to retaliate violently. Murray has created a fascinating coming-of-age story against the backdrop of a unique portion of Latin American history, but he struggles to find a balance between convention and individuality.
Sorcery is very much a slow burn, but it’s atmospheric in a way that creeps under your skin. After an opening scene that is equal parts truly horrifying and absolutely devastating, the movie turns into something that is much more character-driven. That being said, there are a few points in which it begins to feel as if the narrative is simply spinning its wheels.
The most interesting part of the film is the bond that forms between the protagonist and the father-like figure she finds in the witchcraft-practicing Indigenous community. While a few of the beats throughout this storyline are somewhat conventional, it has the emotional resonance to be quite effective.
Murray and Pablo Paredes’s script contains some obvious anti-colonialist themes, but one will almost wish that they had done more with them. It’s clear that, while there are supernatural forces in play, the real threat are the people. It just would have been nice to see a harder stance taken against those wrong-doers.
Still, what the movie doesn’t have in strong writing, it makes up for with astounding visuals. María Secco’s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, bringing Bernardita Baeza’s immersive production design to life beautifully. It’s a small story told in a very expansive way, which makes it resonate better than it otherwise would.
The film also boasts some very strong performances, especially from its young lead, Valentina Véliz Caileo. Her performance is extremely nuanced in a way that is far beyond her years, full of quiet emotion. Daniel Antivilo complements her quite well, having quite a few moments that allow him to flex his commanding screen presence.
Sorcery has some pretty noticeable issues with its script, yet the movie manages to stick with you long after the credits roll. Combine that with cinematography that is sure to be some of the year’s finest, and it would be a shame to miss this one.
Sorcery is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.