The legend of the Boo Hag comes vividly to life in indie director Jeremiah Kipp's latest feature film The Geechee Witch: A Boo Hag Story, a Fairfax Pictures release in theaters this week playing exclusively at Regal Cinemas.
As the legend goes, a "boo hag" is a mythical creature in the Gullah folklore somewhat similar to vampires, though they gain sustenance from a person's breath as opposed to blood. Slave narratives of Gullah Geechees have documented tales of boo hags from the formerly enslaved and into this world we arrive at The Geechee Witch. Leah (Tryphena Wade) and her husband Asa (Stephen Cofield, Jr.) have relocated from Harlem to his family's estate in coastal Georgia after the mysterious killing of Leah's mother. With an already stressed out marriage, Leah is clearly out of her element and increasingly convinced that someone has put the "root" on her. It's a fear that manifests itself when she discovers that a "Boo Hag" has been unleashed on her family. Disguised, as Boo Hags are, in the skin of past victims, this witch is determined to take Leah's husband and her own life.
Kipp is a natural for this type of film, a quieter folk horror flick grounded in both otherworldly and very worldly matters. The opening scene, which I won't share here, plants the seeds for the journey we're about to go on and the Boo Hag, played to near perfection by Nikelola Balogun, we're going to get to know incredibly well.
As Leah and Asa arrive, it's apparent that all is not as Leah expected. Asa's return is his first in years and, in fact, Leah has never been there nor met his family. They will move into what appears to be a historic mansion, a plantation really, where Asa's mother lived and died while leaving his father, Dwaine (Lance E. Nichols), alone. We're introduced to Dwaine along with local doctor Zoe Quade (Ernestine Johnson), whose approach to medicine seems to be a mishmash of science and supernatural.
Wade impresses as Leah. Arriving to this new home and immediately falling into a sort of sleep disruption explained away by Dr. Quade as a form of sleep paralysis, suspicions grow that she's being ridden by a "hag." There will be more explanations and conflicts that rise to the surface as marital conflicts swirl, a sense of menace grows, and it becomes obvious that all is not well.
Co-written by J. Craig Gordon, Phoenix Higgins, and Jason Walter Short, The Geechee Witch immerses us in a world that never feels settled and always feels as if it could easily suffocate us. Original music by Arindam Jurakhan feels like a tapestry of hoodoo and guttural scream. Lensing by Dominick Sivilli makes sure we're never comfortable in this otherwise pristine estate and leaves us looking around our own corners and more certain of the dark than the light.
Kipp has always been an intelligent director, trusting of his audience and less prescriptive than some of his peers. There are ideas at play here, seemingly obvious ones, though it's also clear that Kipp wants to immerse us in this story and have us come to our own conclusions. For those familiar with the boo hag legend, the connections will seem obvious yet Kipp infuses the film with a sense of realism and awareness of our history. Even as our story winds down and Leah demands that we "focus on the future," it's clear that the past is always there to guide us, haunt us, and permanently alter us.
They say that time heals all wounds. I have a feeling The Geechee Witch would disagree.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic