Two soldiers on the opposing side of the English Civil War get lost in a forest at the tail end of an ugly battle that leaves the two of them the lone survivors. As the young pious Parliamentarian Thomas (William Young) flees from the battle hardened, jaded Royalist Richard (Daniel Oldroyd) to save his own life, things start become unnerving and surreal for the two. Thomas starts to suspect something preternatural-Witchcraft may be afoot. He talks Richard into an uneasy alliance as the two try to work out a way to leave the forest and stay alive.
Doing a 17th Century period piece, not to mention a horror, on a scaled down budget is a pretty ambitious venture for first time directors George Popov and Jonathan Russell. However, there’s a great economy to Hex’ script, being set entirely in an empty forest with only two characters for most of the run time, and the magic is more subtle and mood setting than overt attacks. There’s some decent production in the opening, and even a great trick with blood later on created through quick cutting that I really appreciated; small touches like that really make a film like this pop.
Despite it only coming in at 87 minutes, do not expect a fast-paced horror. In fact, outside of an opening speech, dialogue is sparse-to-non-existent for the first 20 minutes. This really does set the tone and it’s impressive how well established the characters’ personalities are with them saying very little. There is a great sense of mood and tone here, and while the pacing can be languid in spots and has the potential to lose people, I appreciate when a film takes a risk like this and lands 7 times out of 10.
Sadly, it can suffer a bit from its budget, which is inevitable. Sometimes the camera can be framed up to the leads a bit too tight, sometimes the line delivery is a little flat. There are some wonderful shots here (my compliments to the cinematographer), and the actors get across a lot brilliantly when saying so little, but this isn’t very evenly handled. I love the direction the ending goes thematically, I just felt we could have gotten there in a more cohesive manner as things felt a tad rushed to get to the place the film needed to go. The final shot is spectacular and haunting, having said that.
Hex is an ambitious debut feature that mostly works out. It has the usual unevenness a first-time feature on a limited budget has, but it makes up for that with excellent uses of tension, surprising thematic depth and bold choices like long stretches without dialogue that can really pay off mood wise It’s a really interesting movie, and I’d love to see if it all flows that much better for me on repeat viewing. It’s this kind of ambition and go-for-it attitude that independent cinema needs.
Hex is available at Amazon Prime US and Amazon Prime UK, as well as Tubi TV. For more information on the film’s production house Rubicon Films, be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitterand Instagram.