Malleus Maleficarum (2015) – By Misty Layne

Synopsis: A small town’s religious beliefs have pushed them back to the dark ages. Halloween has morphed into a modern-day witch hunt, victims sold like fireworks for the public to dispose of. Thought of as a method to purge evil from society on the day it is considered most powerful, one young man has other plans. Despite trying his hardest to follow in his family’s fundamentalist footsteps, his morals are pushed to their limits and something has to give. In this tale of teen rebellion, the stakes are as high as they get. Prepare for Exodus.

Ah, is there anything better in life than a well done short film? Okay, maybe a kindle of kittens, but otherwise there is isn’t much. I’ve often said that the short film format is a hard one to master (and I stand by that statement), so it’s always a delight when something like Torin Langen’s “Malleus Maleficarum” comes along to tantalize the senses. “Malleus” is brutal to watch (but in a good way), thought-provoking, wickedly creepy, depressing as hell and a fabulous societal commentary. All that and under 20 minutes too!

In a small, unknown Canadian town, people are getting ready for something, though we’re not quite sure what. A girl puts on makeup and jewelry; a family drives to a gas station – normal everyday occurrences, right? Except the teenage boy in the family driving to the gas station seems incredibly nervous and troubled. But what could be wrong? It looks to be a beautiful day…but then the owner of the gas station takes the family into a back room where people with bags on their heads are huddled together on the floor, waiting to be bought…This is where we leave normality behind and move into witch hunt and persecution territory. For these people are deemed witches, evil, and are to be purged of their sins and then burned at the stake. Apparently, families make a day of it – setting up lawn chairs, baking cookies – good times, eh? But the teenage boy from above is having a crisis of conscience and there’s no telling where it may lead him next.

“Malleus” is one of those films that invokes us to use our senses besides hearing by not having a single line of dialogue. There’s music, yes, and it’s put to terrific use, creating a heightened sense of tension and fear, but the lack of dialogue forces us to focus more on the actors’ facial expressions (and here they’re small and discreet – a tilt of the corner of a mouth, a raised eyebrow) and also brings into focus the tiniest details of what’s happening around the actors. A great example of this is a scene where the teenage boy and one of the “witches” are in the woods, hiding. They share a poignant moment – a moment of fear, of relief, of pain and sorrow – and when they pull back from this moment, you see a tiny glint, a reflection in one of their eyes that tells you that all is not well. It’s bloody brilliant.

Eric Repke and Rebeca MacKinnon are utterly terrific as the teenage boy and his sister, respectively. Their relationship plays out as highly complicated and you have to wonder what came before the events of this film that brought them to this point. Rebeca’s “Sister” is downright terrifying in her calm determination to do the “right” thing, no matter what the cost and despite her own conscience struggle. But undoubtedly Eric’s “Brother” is the star here, a teen on the brink of manhood yet who seems to retain a childlike innocence about himself. He’s torn between family, tradition and what’s right and his “act of teen rebellion” costs him dearly. In a film with no dialogue, you’d better have actors who can act and more importantly, actors who can emote and these actors CAN. After watching this, I’m fairly certain you could stick a camera in front of Eric, turn it on and leave for an hour, then come back and find that he’d told an entire story with only his eyes and having not said a single word the entire time. Let’s see more of him, please.

And let’s see more of Torin Langen. As writer and director of “Malleus”, he’s created something quite special. This young filmmaker has an eye for the things that frighten us the most, way deep down. I can’t wait to see what he brings to the table next. I’d actually love to see more of this story – how this tradition began; where the brother and sister’s parents are; if it’s only in this small town, then why do people stay there – why don’t they leave? It would be great to explore (*cough hint cough*).

Absolutely check out “Malleus Maleficarum” as soon as you’re able. You won’t be sorry. Head on over to Facebook now!

(Oh, a little bit of history about the title – “Malleus Maleficarum” is the name of a 1486 treatise on the prosecution of witches written by a German named Heinrich Kramer. “Malleus Maleficarum” is commonly translated into English as “Hammer of the Witches”. In fact, the entire title of the book “Malleus Maleficarum, Maleficas, & earum hæresim, ut phramea potentissima conterens” translates into “The Hammer of Witches which destroyeth Witches and their heresy as with a two-edged sword”.)