War Witch to crush your spirit

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This article first appeared on Farrago.

War Witch will suck the spirit right out of you. It’s as depressing a picture as they come, and one that will make you mad with the world and everything in it.

Ironically enough, this is precisely what makes War Witch a great film. Its ability to evoke such strong emotions in its audience is both its greatest strength and its biggest fallback.

War Witch tells the story of Komona, a 12 year old girl who becomes a child soldier overnight when her Sub-Saharan African village is raided and her family killed by rebels. Over time, the rebels’ leader Great Tiger adopts Komona as his witch, drawing on her uncanny ability to predict where government soldiers are hiding, and survive every conflict.

The film focuses in on her overwhelming sense of guilt, as she ponders the life ahead for herself and her unborn child. Simultaneously she must fight the demons of the past and present, with the ghosts of fallen friends and foes embodied in near-naked people covered in white dust.

For narrative purposes, the film preoccupies itself with the superstitious behaviours of the local people. While this adds to the intrigue, it does nothing to eliminate the negative prejudices and stereotypes of African people. Indeed, with the exception of Komona, most Africans portrayed in this story are made to look like dim-witted fools lacking in agency.

Another thing the film fails to do is inspire any sense of hope; it illustrates to us the problems without revealing the potential solutions. Sure, not every scene is a sorry lament, and the film does have its fair share of heart-warming moments. But this uneven balance between happiness and sadness is what is most likely to stick with the viewer. The world is a pretty cruel and unfair place, which unfortunately doesn’t always offer people the happy endings they crave.

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