Directed by Swamy M. Kandan
Distributed by Vertical Entertainment
The Salem Witch Trials are shrouded in mystery. While extensive documentation exists to detail the political, cultural, and religious atmosphere at the time, an explanation concerning why a group of children began experiencing convulsions, hallucinations, and other bizarre symptoms has never been pinpointed. Several theories abound, however, ranging from sleep paralysis to the psychological effects of a constant fear of Indian attacks has been proposed. One such theory is ergotism, a condition caused by consuming the fungus Claviceps purpurea and causing many of the same symptoms the afflicted of Salem allegedly experienced. Despite being debunked by most scholars as a plausible cause of witch hysteria, this theory serves as the impetus for mystery thriller The Secret Village, written and directed by Swamy M. Kandan.
The Secret Village film is a mystery that focuses on a young journalist named Rachel who has arrived in a small, self-governing village to research the town’s history of ergot poisoning. Only one local resident will talk to her, with the rest of the townsfolk telling her to mind her business. She quickly learns of a mysterious cult in the town, and after her roommate Greg goes missing, she’s compelled to uncover the truth before the townsfolk get to her.
Poorly edited and lacking a coherent structure, the consistently confusing narrative plods along, filled with seemingly nonsensical and bizarre flashbacks and inserts that only make sense during the film’s final moments. The mystery is never compelling, nor interesting, due in part to the fact that it tries so damned hard. It has to unfold organically, rather than through confusion. While some might find the sudden reveal worth the time spent watching it bounce around through time, it proved to be a perfect example of lazy filmmaking. If the impetus for your story can’t be revealed through the narrative, then it’s highly likely some mistakes were made in the development process.
Weird filters and sound effects are used throughout, ostensibly to amplify the mystery, but, like the acting of almost everyone involved (even recent indie horror mainstay Richard Riehle), it just comes off as forced and hokey. Despite its high-ish production values, the acting and editing give off the impression of a forced shoot, cobbled together as quickly as possible to meet a deadline. Is there a method to the madness found in The Secret Village? It’s entirely possible the unbalanced editing and the mystery that follows is intended to be analogous to the mystery that surrounded – and continues to surround – the witch hysteria that gripped the area over three hundred years ago, but I think this is merely my failed attempt at reasoning away the film’s flaws.
I wish I could say something good about this film, but throughout its 90 minute run-time, I struggled with simply not turning it off. It’s a chore to sit through, and has all the hallmarks of a film that wants to be more than it really is.
1 out of 5