Bold and Experimental Arthouse Horror Agatha (PANIC) is for Those with an Acquired Taste
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Kelly Bigelow Becerra, Roland Becerra
Writer: Kelly Bigelow Becerra, Roland Becerra
Runtime: 61 Minutes
Starring: Emily Joyce-Dial, Nathan Lewis, Lauren Mascali
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Panic Film Festival in 2023.
Film has always been a visual media, one way or another since its inception. Directors and creative teams have long tried to break the boundaries that make convention and often stifle creativity. Some films come along trying to do something different. Agatha is just that film.
Filmed like a free-flowing painting, Agatha tells the story of a professor who follows a young girl into an apocalyptic landscape in hopes that he can find a cure for an ailment he has been trying to fix. As he wanders through the ruins of a crumbling world, he is confronted with the dark secrets of his past.
Its good intentions aside, Agatha is a plodding yet beautiful horror experience that will leave viewers confused and frustrated.
The idea of creating a moving painting set to a horror story is a fantastic idea for a film but presents many problems throughout the course of Agatha. Its lack of specific story means that the film works better if enjoyed as an experience or based on its “vibes” only. The story behind Agatha is more experiential than traditional. With scant dialogue, the only clues as to what is going on must be gleaned from the moving scenery as the film glides onward. Its simplicity makes it an easy film to figure out on your own. Given its short story time, there are only so many clues it can give viewers before revealing itself neatly in the end. While it works, it doesn’t shine with the creativity or intriguing nature of its artistic direction.
What would work better as a short, which is supported by the already brief runtime, feels especially arduous as a near feature length film. Drawings, sketches, and paintings all can tell a story with just one frame. The problem with the approach to the concept in Agatha is that the story doesn’t move at the pace needed to justify its runtime. Instead of focusing on the beautiful and dark scenes on screen, the story drags the attention of the viewer down a dark path to boredom. Mirroring the languid strokes on a canvas, Agatha gets repetitive and stretched out before it even hits 15 minutes.
Characterization and strong performances are also thrown to the wayside in favor of the aesthetic. Since there is little dialogue, the few characters crafted are developed almost solely by their actions. Due to many repeated sequences, these characters hardly get the development they need to be memorable or interesting. Instead, they fall into easy archetypes that do little to serve the story’s needs. This does seem defensible when discussing the vision of the film, but it remains irksome. The performances also leave plenty to be desired. Learning more about the actors, it makes sense that they aren’t giving Oscar worthy performances, but there are sequences where they reactions stretch the bounds of reality Agatha gives, making it easier to disconnect.
Aesthetically speaking, Agatha is a wonderfully weird film that is unapologetic in its commitment to a unique style of storytelling. While the story falls flat rather quickly, what keeps Agatha compelling enough is its beautiful artistic choices. The landscape in Agatha straddles the line between grounded and surreal, falling quite in line with its apocalyptic aspirations. The lo-fi beauty of its landscapes distracts the viewer shortly from its generic plot and molasses-like pacing.
Agatha works more conceptually than it does playing out in real time. There are some gorgeous visuals and bold directorial choices that make it hard to fully ding the indie film too much. Unfortunately, these aspects alone cannot keep the dull story afloat as it struggles to hold much interest despite its incredibly short runtime. Fans of arthouse horror may find plenty to indulge in here, but for most horror fans, there won’t be too much to dissect. Agatha is a labor of love that is best left loved by those who are willing to take on the journey warts and all.
Overall Score? 4/10