PIFF 2022: Nightshades – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 21 minutes, Director – Sophie Tavert Macian

When three friends (Lorine Wolff, Julie Tavert, Malina Ioana-Ferrante) reunite in the middle of a pandemic to mourn the loss of one of their aunts, things begin to turn sinister as the experiment with the occult.

There’s an interesting nature to the way in which writer-director Sophie Tavert Macian’s Nightshades plays with its elements of ambiguity. What starts out as “a girls’ weekend, just between us. And some ghosts” begins to delve into seriousness as the occult and supernatural are meddled with. It’s never made clear whether the central trio are witches themselves; the rituals which they appear to be performing could be for a bit of fun, yet there’s always a layer of seriousness to them with the belief that they could help communicate with the recently passed aunt of one of them, Mili (Lorine Wolff).

Yet, seriousness is where the film begins to lean in its second half as the presence of Patrick (Gérald Robert-Tissot) appears in the small house which the three women (also including Julie Tavert’s Mado and Malina Ioana-Ferrante’s Baza) are staying. Patrick turning up certainly acts as a turning point for the film as the tone changes, and indeed a shift appears to take place across the piece as a whole. He’s a largely unexplained figure who poses both a sinister nature and potential familiarity to the three. Further creating the sense of ambiguity, perhaps the mystical powers and rituals are real and have caused an effect.

While the second half of the short 81 minute run-time may feel different to what has come beforehand it still generally works and keeps you engaged. It helps that the film as a whole appears to have a relatively simplistic structure and nature. Much of the first half appears to be build up, the three reconnecting after a long period spent in lockdown in various struggling, distant or non-existent, relationships, trying to rediscover their connection – “where are the b!tches I spoke to over lockdown?” one of them asks relatively early in the film as the group explores the quiet town around them, a slightly meandering set of moments which aren’t always the most connecting. With this being the case it means that, while still fairly simplistic, the final 15 minutes – where most of the (dramatic) action takes place things do seem to once again slightly shift. They work, although waver when it comes to pairing up with what has come beforehand over the course of the narrative.

Certainly the short run-time appears to stem from the fairly stripped back nature that Nightshades holds – which is no bad thing. It does mean that some of the points in the build up to the core turnaround can begin to feel slightly stretched out, particularly when the tonal shift arrives and things begin to spin for the well-performed central trio. The ambiguity of some moments helps to keep the viewer engaged in the film, particularly when it comes to whether there are actually witch-related powers being used, or it’s a fantasy in the minds of the characters to cope with grief, or a point of tradition, etc. It’s one of the core points of interest within the film that helps to move it along and keep the viewer engaged, even during the shifts towards the end of the piece which while still working do feel of a slightly different film. However, things generally work with an engaging and amusing nature consistently placing the three central friends and their own actions and thoughts at the centre of the film, rarely distracting from that and keeping some form of connection thanks to it.

While it might experience some tonal shifts, particularly in the final 15 minutes, they generally work for Nightshades as, especially once the relatively simple narrative turns around, it consistently places the three central friends, and occasionally their ambiguous witch-like powers, at the centre of the film.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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