There is nothing more ambitious than attempting to build out a world just slightly different from the one we live in by using nothing but dialogue. Minimalistic in nature, this approach takes a writing skill and a deft hand to immerse the audience. In the case of Falling Stars, the world in which we’re asked to take a journey in is one where, each year in late October, witches use the darkness as cover to descend to earth to harvest those caught outside without protection.
The titular falling stars, witches a threat, a myth, a wonder that invokes fear and awe in equal measure with others giving reverence, waiting to be taken. To help the townspeople, the authorities have put a curfew in place to limit the disappearances. But boys will be boys when three brothers leave the house to see the body of a witch, shot down by a friend who buried her in the desert.
Directed and written by Richard Kapala and Gabriel Bienczycki, Falling Stars prioritizes the personal over the spectacle as the brothers face the consequences of their curiosity. After confirming the very strict rules about how to behave around the body, the friend and the brothers unearth the witch, much akin to poking a dead body with a stick, but with substantially worse consequences in the works if they are cursed. And sure enough, they do end up cursed after the baby of the family accidentally desecrates the corpse and triggers a chain reaction that endangers him and his loved ones for the Harvest.
A directorial debut for Richard Karpala and Gabriel Bienczycki, Falling Stars evokes strong similarities to Pontypool or The Vast of Night in terms of how to use dialogue alone to set the stage and the future of the characters. Here, there are nods to the classic understanding of witches, but they aren’t restricted by it. Instead, the directing duo works to reinvent a witch lore that is unique to his world and subtly reinvent the ways in which we think about witches and their power.
Falling Stars does a lot of world-building with so little. By centering the development of the witches, their curse, and how humans exist in it through conversations, writer-director Richard Kapala makes the film into a horror slice of life. It’s this format that offers the emotional payoff. While it may seem simple, this minimalistic horror film captures the audience by effortlessly lowering them into a new world just slightly unlike our own and allowing us to see into one family with one problem and work through it with all the tension and angst that comes from it.
While the nature of the narrative leaves holes for prying questions and and the pacing has moments of oddity, the film is a stellar exploration of folklore and how to tell a story with just the world at the center.
Smartly directed and stripped down, Falling Stars is a breath of fresh night air in a time of films pushing to be bigger, louder, and yelling to be heard. Falling Stars, its script, and its actors are able to pull off a large lore swing with an intimacy that makes a difference, making it one of the gems of Fantastic Fest 2023.
Falling Stars screened as a part of Fantastic Fest 2023 programming.
Falling Stars, its script, and its actors are able to pull off a large lore swing with an intimacy that makes a difference, making it one of the gems of Fantastic Fest 2023.