Rotterdam 2024 Review: WITTE WIEVEN (HERESY) Brings A Television Movie To The Cinema

Didier Konings' medieval horror film works wonders with strong acting, atmosphere and well-placed effects.

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
Rotterdam 2024 Review: WITTE WIEVEN (HERESY) Brings A Television Movie To The Cinema

Didier Konings' Witte Wieven (or Heresy, for international markets) is a very short feature film, debuting at the IFFR, but made as part of a series of television horror films, presented by the famous Dutch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven. Koolhoven, who might be most well known to American audiences because of his modern western Brimstone, used his power as The Netherlands' most popular current working director this side of Paul Verhoeven, to launch new genre talent in the Netherlands, this time as a producer. There have been many people working in the margins of Dutch genre cinema for a long time, but Koolhoven Presents represents part of a big wave of interesting genre films and filmmakers. The future of Dutch genre film looks bright indeed, if Heresy is anything to go by.

Because while Heresy was made on a Dutch television budget (which is to say a shoe-string one), in looks, scope and ambition it can pull its punches among the cream of the crop of the current European genre film. It helps that Didier Konings has a background in concept art for big Hollywood productions. He knows what to show and when. And that is in fact key to the succes of this modest horror film.

IFFR2024-ww-ext1.jpgIn Heresy, a medieval horror movie spoken in Lower-saxon, a young woman named Frieda tries to escape religious patriarchy by seeking out the supernatural demon women in the woods. Witte Wieven are the Dutch equivalent of banshees, after all. You might be forgiven if you think this sounds uncomfortably close to The VVitch, but Konings is not here for the slow burn, like Robert Eggers was, nor is he leaving it up to the imagination what might be happening in the woods. Frieda goes into the woods quite early in the story, and she returns transformed. And while some of the creatures are only shown in full quite late in the game, at other moments the film does not shy away from showing the guts and gore. Whereas The VVitch was a pretty sedate arty affair, Heresy is a thrill ride, with effects and designs that harken back to the best works of Guilermo Del Toro and John Carpenter. The effects wizardry on display is quite impressive, especially given the modest budget. Heresy can easily stand on its own, and the comparisons to The VVitch are quickly forgotten.

The ambition on display is what works in the favor of Heresy. Try to sell a television movie that is an medieval horror spoken in an archaic language, that touches on themes of sexual violence and the patriarchy to a Dutch, or even international audience, and they might not buy it. But Heresy is great, and above all, quite fun. Which is surprising for a film this thematically dark.

Some of the limitations also might have helped the filmmakers to really sell the claustrophobia of its setting. Having a medieval village this small, or keeping some essential effects off of screen, might have set any other film back. But here Konings and the rest of the crew make really smart choices. For instance, the lack of a larger scope setting is written into the screenplay, and really plays up the Frieda vs. the rest-story that is going on. And by letting some of the violent confrontations or monster designs just outside of the frame, we stay uncomfortably close to Frieda, which really helps to sell the emotional core of the story. It also helps that there is a whirlwind of a performance at the center of the film, with Anneke Sluiters as the lead. She is amazing, and destined for a great future, if this film is anything to go by.

Everything from the acting, to the screenplay, to the designs helps to reinforce every other element. If ambition is one thing to applaud, it is even better if that ambition pays off. You can do a lot with a little, if used economically and smartly. Heresy does just that.

Witte Wieven is currently playing at the International Film Festival Rotterdam as part of the 'Koolhoven Presents' program, afterwards it will join the international festival circuit.

Witte Wieven

  • Didier Konings
  • Marc S. Nollkaemper
  • Anneke Sluiters
  • Len Leo Vincent
  • Reinout Bussemaker
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Didier KoningsMarc S. NollkaemperAnneke SluitersLen Leo VincentReinout BussemakerHorrorMystery

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