Wicked (Wisconsin) Wednesday Pt. 10: Coven

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Coven, a now infamous short film about the perils of drinking, drugs and AA meetings. It’s an unusual little film from the mind of Mark Borchardt. This film clocks in at under 40 minutes. It’s a brief bit of work that took a lot to produce. But what is this Wisconsin cult film like?

Mike is a struggling writer, who also struggles with his alcohol. The stress of work drives him to overdose on pills and alcohol, which he is then hospitalised for. As he’s leaving in the elevator, the doors open to a strange old man, which seemingly appears to drive a young girl on  crazy.

Mike’s friend Steve convinces him to join a support group for his increasing problems. The people present at the meeting each have dramatic problems with drugs and alcohol – an intense fictionalised version of AA meetings. The depressing stories seem a bit much for Mike as he leaves to have a drink himself:

“God helps those who help themselves, man.”

Things probably should have been suspicious as soon as Mike saw the high amount of attendees wearing black lipstick. He’s in the woods drinking and writing one day when a group of hooded figures appear to him. They chase the writer through the woods, but he gets away. His following meeting, one of the organisers announces that he is an unconvicted murderer.

And then things begin to go an even bit more strange for Mike. The drink they have given him seems to have made him hallucinate – making him question his own reality. Is his AA meeting group really a coven? Or is this all Mike’s way of fighting against the group? The unusual climax is almost too brief, but it’s the short on the brutal.

Yes, it’s clearly low budget and made by amateurs, but it is still arguably quite beautiful. The music by Patrick Nettesheun is positively haunting. The long still shots really build a sense of intensity. The home-movie feel is pretty great, considering. And yes, the acting isn’t fantastic, but when you’re working on your uncle’s savings you can’t be picky. Coven, while by no means perfect, is still a great bit of atmosphere.

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Coven was the subject of Chris Smith’s documentary American Movie, but more on that next week.

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