Argentinian investigative journalism program 60 Minutes to Midnight is about to air its controversial last episode. Having burned many bridges along the way, the showrunners intend to go out with a bang – exposing government conspiracies and inviting contentious guests who may or may not be attuned to the occult. Meanwhile, offsite and fighting time and tide, a group of journalists fight to bring the truth to light and provide the perfect evidence live on air.
Beautiful black and white, and 4:3 aspect ratio, History of the Occult evokes imagery of horror films past. A sparse and meticulous use of color telegraphs what’s to come. Director and writer Christian Ponce makes the most of his feature film debut, creating an artful, mindful film that requires careful attention and a discerning mind to comprehend. I would be lying if I said that I was held tight every moment. The loosely tied together narrative and the language barrier together with a concept that is unfamiliar to American audiences overall made the first act of this film rather difficult to follow, but as the story progressed I felt its stranglehold and found myself unable to look away.
Unfortunately, loose and undefined introductions and open endings take a major toll on a film that already requires more than the usual level of attention. While this may be somewhat typical for Argentinian film, and Argentinian horror in particular, it definitely doesn’t always translate well to American audiences. It’s difficult to piece together who is who and why we should be invested in any of it – and while I’m not one who enjoys being spoon-fed, a little bit more information would be helpful. It makes emotional investment difficult, especially as most of the real-life history is outside of my wheelhouse.
History of the Occult is the definition of a slow burn – operating in clock-ticking real time, with sputters and starts, and slow, dialogue heavy expository scenes that still leave questions hovering in the air around them. Horror visuals are sparse but used to delightful effect, never falling prey to the trickery of a jump scare or gratuitous violence. I have a feeling the audience response to History of the Occult will be incredibly individual and subjective – like Lighthouse or The Witch, it’s likely this film will get panned by some and adored by others, in spite of itself. While it may not have been my perfect cup of tea, it is a masterful film made with dedication and mindfulness, and introduces us to an incredible storyteller in writer and director Christian Ponce.
This film is part of Fantaspoa, which ran for free on the streaming platform Darkflix, from April 9th through the 18th. All film screenings are geo-blocked to Brazil, with additional details available at www.fantaspoa.com.
6 out of 10