The Geechee Witch: A Boo Hag Story

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Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Geechee Witch: A Boo Hag Story
"Though the story here isn’t terribly complex, the richness of the setting and the depth of lore surrounding the central phenomenon gives it a potency beyond that of the average horror tale."

On their way back to the house where his parents lived before the recent death of his mother, Asa (Stephen Cofield Jr) and Leah (Tryphena Wade) pass a blue gate. It’s a very distinctive shade of blue and, whilst it might seem unremarkable to the average person, anyone who has spent time in a Geechee community like this one will recognise that it has been coloured that way in an effort to ward off the boo hag. To Asa – as to Geechee screenwriter J Craig Gordon – this is just part of life. To Leah, it’s the first of many mysteries in a place where she will feel more and more desperately out of her depth.

The Geechee are the descendants of people who were enslaved by white Americans, so there’s a further unsettling moment when the car pulls up outside the house – a plantation house, with all the haunted quality one would expect of such a place. As viewers, we’ve already been treated to a prologue showing us something of what the boo hag can do, but this setting keeps us connected to a legacy of material horrors and helps to create a pathway into the story for those who have not grown up with these beliefs. This is built upon with mundane but nonetheless stressful experiences: Asa’s grief at his mother’s passing, Leah’s inability to get a decent night’s sleep, and the tension between the two of them which stems from his unfaithfulness and her miscarriages.

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With Asa’s father taking a trip to Florida to deal with his own grief, the unhappy couple are left alone together in the house – though in this kind of community, there are always people trying to push into their space, for good or ill. Leah is unhappy about the persistent presence of elderly Jacob, who seems at first as if he might be mentally disabled, but whose odd behaviours gradually reveal a more troubling cause. She’s still more unhappy about the young local woman who is open about her desire to take Asa for herself; and she’s unsure of the real motives of the sleep doctor who finds her at the funeral and offers her services. Apparently sleeplessness is common in the area, though just what that signifies only gradually becomes apparent to her. Dreams of a strange, blood-soaked woman won’t go away, and as she wakes up gasping, time and again, she is warned that the boo hag has come to take away her breath,

Though the story here isn’t terribly complex, the richness of the setting and the depth of lore surrounding the central phenomenon gives it a potency beyond that of the average horror tale. The film’s fantastical elements are closely woven into the ordinary fabric of life in a way that respects the fact that the Geechee people don’t see a distinction, and that will leave many viewers uncertain as to the cause of some of Leah’s experiences. Outsiders will find things they can connect with in the lore because it incorporates elements drawn from, or developed in parallel with, traditions elsewhere in the world – for instance, the scattering of seeds creates difficulties for the boo hag just as it would for a European vampire, but for a slightly different reason. This means that there are fascinating ideas to explore alongside the horror.

Anyone who has seen director Jeremiah Kipp’s previous feature, Slapface, will be unsurprised that this horror is not entirely one sided. We get a sense of the boo hag as a being with her own needs, her desperation giving her a prickly edge which feels more familiar and therefore more disturbing than simple hatred or maliciousness. Her red eyes may feel like a cliché but are one of those bits of lore it would be hard to avoid, yet her movements, created by contortionist Nikelola Balogun, give her a proper sense of otherness.

Adding to the atmosphere is Arindam Jurakhan’s score, which incorporates conga drumming along with strings. It enhances the sense of connection between the story and community from which it emerged, and its raggedness blends well with the sound of the boo hag’s victims struggling for breath. The film’s distinctive soundscape will help it to linger in viewers’ imagination. Although, overall, it’s not on a par with Slapface – which set a high bar – it’s an interesting piece of work which gives the general viewer an opportunity to engage with unfamiliar mysteries whilst ensuring that the Geechee people retain control of their own narrative.

Reviewed on: 02 Feb 2024
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The Geechee Witch: A Boo Hag Story packshot
Following her husband back to the place where he grew up, an artist begins to experience nightmares and gradually discovers the dark secret behind them.

Director: Jeremiah Kipp

Writer: J Craig Gordon, Phoenix Higgins, Jason Walter Short

Starring: Tryphena Wade, Nikelola Balogun, Stephen Cofield Jr, Basil Wallace, Ernestine Johnson, Sinclair Daniel, Lance E Nichols

Year: 2024

Country: US

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