‘Coven’ Documentary Explores Three Different Paths Towards Witchery [Hot Docs 2023 Review]
Rama Rau is a talented documentary filmmaker who has taken a fascinating subject for her latest film and splintered it into three narratives. Coven follows the individual journies of three Canadian witches as they explore what witchcraft and Wicca mean to them.
While the film delivers on its compelling premise, not all three women share the same levels of fascinating experience. The main focus seems to be on a witch named Laura, one of three Toronto-bound spiritualists on a lonely path to self-discovery. This takes her across the globe and weaves into several historical lapses, including an ancestor who perished in Salem. While Laura is easy to empathize with, her story is not nearly as compelling as the others.
The highlight arc of Coven comes down to the Canadian musician Witch Prophet, who made an exciting live performance after the Hot Docs screening. Using psychic intuition and the complex entanglement of her cultural and spiritual backlogs, this character is by far the most fascinating to witness on her path to self-discovery and magic. Check out her music here.
Finally, there’s Andrea, a more experienced witch who is doing her best to reflect on her spiritual roots. She’s a nonchalant character who seems the most self-assured of the three witches, a compelling trait that helps elevate her chapters into something quite interesting.
There’s something flat and indistinguishable about the world traveling that these women take, which is a disappointment. Laura’s trip to Stonehenge is especially slow, which is strange because these segments should easily add color to an already vibrant canvas. I think the main issue with Coven is that the lens focuses too easily on the obvious choice: Laura. Less time on her team would’ve helped lead more depth and focus into the doc.
Sure, it’s an interesting premise following these three distinct witches on their path toward understanding their ancestral beginnings. But not all plots here are equal, and I would’ve ultimately been more invested in a documentary focused on the fascinating inner workings of Witch Prophet. She’s imperfect, and she’s authentic. A beautiful and strange character who is always compelling and honest.
And while the splintered narrative of Coven held it back in parts, when it focuses on the honest and quiet lives of these women, it can really shine. Check this one out if you’re fascinated by women’s stories, witchcraft, or Canadian history.
Coven premiered Friday, April 28, 2023, at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto.
Ultimately Rau’s film is worth the price of admission for originality and charm, but it’s far too unfocused and meanders too easily for my tastes.