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[Panic Fest Review] AGATHA is Allegorical Horror’s Industrial Wasteland


Still from AGATHA (2023), directed by Kelly Bigelow Becerra and Roland Becerra - Panic Fest 2023.
Courtesy of Kelly Bigelow Becerra and Roland Becerra

Written and directed by Kelly Bigelow Becerra and Roland Becerra, Agatha tells a shocking story of justice, grief, sisterhood, and the value of human life. Allegorical and layered with multitudinous interpretations, the narrative spans generations and centuries, asking questions about the nature of culpability and what we might do for the people we love. Told as a series of Victorianesque vignettes, the film is a novel approach to hushed occult horror.


After receiving news of a potentially terminal illness, The Professor (Ryan Whiting) is deeply drunk and suicidal when he witnesses his neighbor across the street, Agatha (Emily Joyce-Dial), conducting a ritual. Realizing she has done the impossible, The Professor blackmails her into curing his illness. A heightened sense of drama is put in place by the actors’ lack of dialogue and instead the reliance on inhabiting their physical space. The tension between Agatha and The Professor is only dialed up as further details of their braided past come to light.


With its limited conversation, Agatha must lean heavily against the support of both the animation and the score. Fortunately, both pillars hold strong and lift it to dizzying heights. JS-Horseman’s score is a character all its own, traveling with the audience through the battered terrain of Bridgeport, Connecticut. At times taut with tension and at others swollen with eerie vocalizations, the music shapeshifts according to what the current scene demands.


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Still from AGATHA (2023), directed by Kelly Bigelow Becerra and Roland Becerra - Panic Fest 2023.
Courtesy of Kelly Bigelow Becerra and Roland Becerra

Agatha is a remarkable endeavor thanks to its animation. Roland Beccera makes a painstaking effort to represent each unique moment with artistic clarity. Several scenes stand out: in one sequence, red blooms beautifully, like spilled blood, but also like the unfurling of petals. The film’s combination of a green screen and what appears to be a rotoscoping effect lead to a storybook aesthetic. Even its anachronisms are scattered intentionally to perplex audiences and drive deeper consideration.


This is where Agatha stumbles –– albeit intentionally. An inherent flaw of the film’s plot and delivery is the confusing trail of events that form its narrative. The film demands a lot from viewers to understand the story, forcing us to be discerning and focused to avoid falling behind. With its non-linear timeline, it is all too easy to lose interest and experience frustration at the bewildering series of vignettes. However, the film does reward its audience with an ending that feels both earned and conclusive once its mysteries are pieced together.


By merit of its animation alone, Agatha is a film with many strengths. The actors deliver notable performances that work spectacularly alongside the film’s damp atmosphere of the metal, rot, and rust that is Bridgeport. Artistic and profound, its only flaw is in its uncompromising artistry. However, its difficult narrative makes it exceptional. To experience the film at its best, audiences must be willing to adapt.


 



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