MotelX 2020 Review: THE HISTORY OF THE OCCULT, a Race Against The Clock to Unveil an Evil Union
60 Minutes to Midnight, an investigative journalism program on television in Argentina has been cancelled. Having made their share of enemies throughout their run the program runners are about to air its last episode and plan to go out with a bang. They plan to expose a mass conspiracy that links the national government to a dyed in the sheep’s wool coven.
The special guest tonight is Adrian Marcato, who might be a warlock and might be responsible for this unholy union. As the program airs a group of journalists and producers are hard at work off site in a race against the clock to not only unveil this conspiracy but locate an object that will backup Marcato’s confession on the air. If their professional expertise is not enough there are other means to achieve their goal tonight. As the minutes tick away will the truth be revealed?
History of the Occult is the feature film debut of Cristian Ponce. Written and directed by the Argentinian it is part cryptic mystery, part horror thriller, all bound together with an occult catalyst.
Shot in black and white Ponce holds his story in the old 4:3 aspect ratio, helping give the setting the look and feel of somewhere around the 60s and 70s. In conversation with producer Pedro Saieg they say it’s supposed to be set in the 80s but through the production design and fashion, in our eyes it looks a couple decades earlier.
Ponce will use color later on, use it in ways that are hints of what is to come. The minute use of red would suggest evil or horror in relation to blood. Here it's found by scratching at the surface, prompting us to look deeper and think more into what is happening here. He’s also not fixed to that aspect ratio either. It all serves a purpose and a clear indication of intent. Nothing is by accident in his presentation.
The use of horror elements in Ponce’s film is spare but serves a purpose. Introduced early on the incidents serve as a note to the viewer of what the show and the crew are getting themselves into as the hour counts down towards their purpose. As the night comes to a close and the crew becomes more desperate to expose Marcato they’ll take further, unconventional risks.
We do sense that response to History of the Occult is going to be very subjective. The shadows and the scary moments at the beginning are good. There is a moment of hallucinogenic horror later on in the story that is a nice nod to imagery from the era of 70s horror, a cool throwback horror vibe. There probably could have been more of that to keep more people hooked that come into a viewing looking for something casual, with minimal engagement.
Not unlike the persistence of the television crew as they work towards revealing the connection of the coven, watching History of the Occult will take a touch more effort to arrange all the clues and decipher the conclusion of Ponce’s story. This is a thinking person’s horror thriller, not one for idle minds. Staying with this cryptic mystery all the way through to its ‘effect ending’ will be rewarding once you have deciphered it.
When watching History of the Occult we could not help but think back to some of the films of Mexican director Isaac Ezban. Yes, we’re playing a regional card here, but similar to Ezban, Ponce is determined to deliver a story that is not just about horrors and chills but wants to give us something to think about and still work out for ourselves after the film has ended. Ponce uses the horror genre’s language to tell his story, the elements of which catch our attention early on until the mystery of the connection between the coven and the government then grabs ahold of our attention.
It’s clear Ponce’s goal is not just to prompt a physical response but to give us time to make a mental one. If nothing else we think History of the Occult presents to us a storyteller and a director that we should keep an eye out for.