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Pungo: A Witch’s Tale (2020) Review

Pungo: A Witch’s Tale begins in 1706 with the dunking of Grace Sherwood (Cathryn Benson, Kara, Malice: Metamorphosis). For those unfamiliar with dunking, it was the practice of throwing a suspected witch into a body of water. If she floated to the surface, she was a witch and executed. If she sank and drowned she was innocent, and conveniently, just as dead. Grace does not float.

Three hundred years later Sam (Matthew Sharpe, Bad Witch, Fat Guy with a Shotgun: Hillbilly Prophecy) a paramedic and ex-SEAL Bud (Mark Hyde, Despiser, Divided City) are hired to renovate a house by its owner, also named Grace Sherwood.

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They’ve barely started work when Bud sees the ghost of his daughter Beth (Morgan Flanagan) warning him to leave. Sam sees some strangely painted woman crawl out of the wall. But that’s minor compared to the tornado that takes them not to Oz, but to Virginia in 1706.

Writer/director Philip J. Cook has a career as a director that stretches back to 1987’s Beyond the Rising Moon, one of the first films to air on SyFy, or The Sci-Fi Channel as it was known then. And I remember renting his film Invader from Blockbuster. More recently he’s been involved with a web series, Malice, and its spinoff films. He’s had plenty of experience working with low budgets, and he puts it to use here.

Pungo: A Witch’s Tale has a plot that’s a mix of fact, weird science, the supernatural, and action film. The factual part is, as usual, very slim. There was a Grace Sherwood, and she was the last person convicted of witchcraft in Virginia. She was even tried by dunking. But she floated and served eight years in jail.

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Here, after surviving her ordeal but losing the child she was carrying, Grace’s ancestor did turn to witchcraft. Which at one point is compared to this century’s Grace’s work with quantum physics. Witchery or science, they’re both ways of doing things that ordinary people can’t understand. And whether it’s the result of spells or the singularities that Grace theorized in her work it’s brought them to the past, and if they miss the next one they’ll be stuck there. If the witch and her minions don’t kill them first.

Pungo: A Witch’s Tale is an ambitious one for something filmed on a shoestring budget. Just setting it in 1706 is a hit on a small budget. Then there are storm effects, Ent-like Wood Golems, a walking dead minion and a castle. The effects are surprisingly good for the most part, certainly better than most fantasy films set in a CGI world. Oddly, it’s small things like depicting the house in the middle of an empty field, the witch’s castle, and the inevitable CGI bullet hits that look the worst. And why they needed to do a CGI ambulance, and do it so badly, is beyond me.

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Despite that, Pungo: A Witch’s Tale is an enjoyably silly film. But with a few tweaks to the script could have been a good bit better. At an hour and forty-one minutes, it’s about ten minutes too long for starters. Given the witch’s trial by water, I expected more to be done with the fact Bud’s daughter died by drowning. That was a wasted opportunity. And why, when every other modern thing in the area vanished, did that stretch of paved road remain?

But if you don’t mind that and some Asylum level CGI mixed in with the better stuff, Pungo: A Witch’s Tale will keep you amused. Some beer and edibles probably wouldn’t be a bad idea, though.

Pungo: A Witch’s Tale is available to stream via Indie Rights. You can check the film’s website and Facebook page for more information.

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