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Film Review: FALLING STARS: A Low-Budget Witch Movie that Needs More Scares [Locarno 2023]

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Falling Stars

Falling Stars Review

Falling Stars (2023) Film Review from the 76th Annual Locarno Film Festival, a movie directed by Gabriel Bienczycki and Richard Karpala, written by Richard Karpala and starring Shaun Duke Jr., Andrew Gabriel, Diane Worman, Piotr Adamczyk, J. Aaron Boykin, Orianna Milne, Rene Leech, Samantha Turret, Greg Poppa and Lonny Curtis.

Falling Stars, an ultra low-budget film directed by Gabriel Bienczycki and Richard Karpala, should be seen as a prototype for a potential Hollywood remake. This new independent horror picture has the ingredients for a good movie but it is hampered by some mediocre acting and lackluster pacing. As a witch picture, though, it’s interesting enough to sit through and imagine what bigger production values could do to enhance it.

This movie sets the stage for the events that are transpiring within the film presenting an energetic radio host named Barry (J. Aaron Boykin) who explains the situation which is going on in the picture. Set around “harvest” time, this movie’s plot actually revolves around three brothers, Mike (Shaun Duke Jr.), Sal (Andrew Gabriel) and Adam (Rene Leech, who is the best performer of the actors playing the brothers) and a witch. These three guys and their misguided antics are at the core of the movie. They have a married friend, Rob (Greg Poppa), who acts as a catalyst for the plot to unfold when he goes along to see a dead witch and, then, beer accidentally spills on the remains of the witch. In short order, Rob returns to find his wife has disappeared after this event and, as a result, has seemingly left their baby alone. Pretty frightening, right?

The no-nonsense mother character in the film named Danni (Diane Worman, very good) suggests that going back to burn the witch is the only way to make sure all hell doesn’t break loose because of the consequences of the spilling of the beer. Worman gets to act up a storm here and doesn’t disappoint with dialogue that seems better than written coming from Worman’s lips.

“Falling stars” refers to the witches ascending onto the desert land from above. There could be falling stars visualized before this film’s end credits roll. And, that’s all I’ll say in that particular regard. The section of the film with Barry, the radio personality merges into the story line of the brothers in an interesting way as the plot continues to unfold.

The best use of a supporting character in the movie is through the way a hitchhiker named Ouami (Piotr Adamczyk) enters the movie towards the end. Ouami, as a character, is very effective in a creepy way as he tries to get a ride from some of the main characters of the film. Adamczyk has a good time in this role and steals the film.

The last shot of the movie is hauntingly effective but it’s a case of too little, too late. Low-budget movies like The Blair Witch Project made a splash at the box-office but Falling Stars, as is, doesn’t seem to have the potential to be a box-office hit. That’s because the movie is almost all dependent on its open-ended conclusion which certainly raises more questions than answers but that is typical of horror films today. The acting in Falling Stars is not always believable. With the exception of Leech, the stars playing the brothers seem to simply be going through the motions in the performances of their roles.

Falling Stars is very brief in length. There’s more substance to the material than the film’s 80-minutes would lead one to believe. People who like witch tales could be more invested in the material than the average viewer. There are shots within the movie that don’t seem to capture the characters effectively, though. For example, a character is framed with his head at the very top of the screen, at times seeming to be a little cut off. Aesthetic problems like this saturate the movie. Another issue is the chemistry between the brothers who don’t feel like they’re really family but Rene Leech overcomes this problem more than the other two actors.

Is Falling Stars a good movie? Not so much, but it had the potential to be better if certain elements were re-worked. The material isn’t scary enough as presented to succeed although it could be spiced up a bit with the same plot under different circumstances. Under budgetary restraints, there are things to commend the filmmakers for. Adamczyk’s role was perfect and if this film is remade, he should certainly be cast in the role again. If this new picture were a graduate student film, it may have passed the class but it will take a bit more to make most mainstream viewers admire Falling Stars.

Rating: 5.5/10

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