‘Brujería’: Witchcraft is Rebellion (REVIEW)

After many years of watching horror films, I have come to the sound conclusion that my favorite type of horror has to be politically driven. Horror works beautifully at allowing its theme to shine through the hardest subject matter – it’s because of the genre conventions and use of metaphor that horror can take its strongest stances. Brujería (in English, “Sorcery“)is a powerful example of this. The Sundance 2023 selection follows Rosa (Valentina Véliz Caileo), a young Huilliche girl working for a German family on Chiloé, a small island off the coast of Chile. When the German family’s father murders Rosa’s father, the girl goes on a journey of self-discovery, renouncing her Christian faith and connecting with a group of brujos determined to set things right for the indigenous people of the island.

A story of witchcraft as a way of life, rebellion, and justice in place of the system built for entitled colonizers who’ve come to take what’s rightfully yours, Brujería is itself a form of protest. Christopher Murray‘s direction is driven and purposeful, a beautiful blend with María Secco‘s brooding and powerful photography. The story feels grounded in reality, its dark fantasy elements adding to the grim history of historical conflict. The displacement of indigenous people has been a problem for so long that we simply ignore it in order to avoid feeling bad about it. It’s inherent to the idea of a “civilized” way of living, one imposed upon everyone because it’s just the way things are done. This is especially true of the imposition of religious beliefs: it’s barbaric, but it’s done in the name of peace and harmony.

Valentina Véliz Caileo as Rosa in Sorcery (COURTESY: SUNDANCE INSTITUTE)

I’m glad more Latine films are touching on this subject and bringing these truths to light. As much as Brujería is a political stance, it’s also a cautionary tale about vengeance and how powerful emotions, when acted upon without allowing oneself to grieve properly, can have major unintended consequences. 

Newcomer Valentina Véliz Caileo is a true standout as Rosa. Her struggle with loss fuels the fire of her journey into power; Rosa’s rage and thirst for justice – and, later, vengeance – push her toward magic in order to save herself and her people. In part, her character embodies the version of “satanic panic” as present as a dark cloud throughout Brujería: natives aren’t respected; their customs, traditions, and land are taken from them in favor of “civilization” and “growth.”

Likewise, Daniel Antivilo is phenomenal as Mateo. He offers Rosa community and a place of belonging when no one else will, teaching her how to fend for herself and live by the rules set for them. But it’s through Rosa’s relationship with Neddiel Muñoz Millalonco’s character that she finally taps into the core of her power and learns to use it for keeping herself safe rather than for retaliation.

Rating: 9/10

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