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Saturday, September 5, 2020

Review: Baba Yaga: The Terror of the Dark Forest

Director: Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy and Nathalia Hencker
Screenplay: Natalya Dubovaya, Ivan Kapitonov, and Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy
Year: 2020

When I stumbled upon the existence of “Baba Yaga: The Terror of the Dark Forest”, I had mixed feelings. On one part, it caught my attention that it is inspired in the Russian myth of the Baba Yaga witch, but on the other part, I was expecting the worst out of this movie. As can be seen, my curiosity to know how the myth was adapted was much larger, and the end result was better than expected.

Egor is a young boy dealing with a few stressors in his life, like the loss of his mother, having to move with his family to a new place, and now the presence of a new nanny that he doesn't trust. Since the nanny gets in the house, Egor starts experiencing unexplainable things, especially around his step-mother's newborn daughter. The strange events start escalating until one day, the nanny and the baby disappear without a trace, which makes Egor and his friends start looking for them. 

Baba Yaga is a Russian myth that is beautifully explained in the opening scene for those who are not familiar with it. Quickly, Baba Yaga is a witch that steals children to feed off of them, a myth that has inspired dozens of witch movies, like the recent "The Witch" and "The Wretched". It particularly has a few similarities with the last one, although "The Wretched" does a better job on the horror aspect and special effects.

From the beginning, the artistic style that directors Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy (“The Bride”) and Nathalia Hencker (“The Blackout”) propose stands out. Bright colors dominate or serve as an accent in most scenes, but the excellent shot composition helps so that they don't look cartoonish. The rest of the visual effects are very well done, and even the CGI looks fine, which are used to highlight distinctive characteristics from the myth, such as the use of red threads. 

Another welcoming surprise was how effective the jump scares ate, which took me entirely by surprise, and I must admit that some made me jump. Part of the responsibility for the jump scares being effective is the great work from the director in making every one of those scenes horrific, as well as the intriguing plot in the script by Natalya Dubovaya, Ivan Kapitonov, and Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy, although it is on the script where it has a few problems. The plot is interesting, but the inconsistencies in how the story, the character, and their relationships are developed leave a lot to be desired. 

I was expecting the worst from “Baba Yaga: The Terror of the Dark Forest”, but my curiosity made me watch it, and I must admit it was a pleasant surprise. Certainly, it is not the best witch movie or the Baba Yaga myth’s best adaptation, but it is neither bad. On an artistic level, it is stunning, and the horror elements work perfectly, but the poor plot and character relationships development end up hurting it too much.

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