28 October 2012 | wkduffy
Intriguing Product of the "Occult Obsessed" 70s
The movie revolves around two sisters: One is a photographer who is married to an architect and lives a relatively normal life, and the other is a houseplant-obsessed, socially awkward isolationist who lives below her sister in a Soho loft and runs a slipshod plant shop. The weird one (well acted, by the way, as are all the parts) dies within the first 20 minutes of the film, and the rest of the movie revolves around her grieving sister trying to figure out how she died--accidentally or not? And if not, who did it?
Although the production year on this flick is 1979, the film feels as though it was made 10 years earlier and is a quintessential product of that occult-obsessed era. As such, the alternative sleuthing tactics used by the sister-cum-detective involves colorful Kirlian photography of auras (the auras of both plants and people) to determine who has ill intent and who knows what. The twist? Her architect-husband might be the murderer (or not) AND one special plant may have seen everything happen! What is that plant trying to say?!!
The feel of the film is serious and decidedly (and purposefully) muted -- the tone, the acting, the music, the photography. You might call it slow, but someone with the right sensibilities might instead call it "creepy." Indeed, the film strikes many of the same chords as horror films of the time period--we're talking about that atmosphere of hopeless Gothic dread and awful, depressing inevitability that drenches cult horror flicks like "Let's Scare Jessica to Death," "The Pyx," or "The Haunting of Julia" (largely created by the music and sometimes-abstract camera angles here in this film). But unfortunately these emotive moments are far and few between. Most importantly, it should be noted that this really is NOT a horror film at all. Although it has some occult overtones and that atmospheric feeling of dread, the story is a who-done-it mystery.
For someone who can plug into the film from this "atmospheric 1970s horror movie" angle (even though, as mentioned, you'd be hard pressed to call this a horror yarn!), "The Kirlian Witness" might be considered a rare gem--not a stellar flick, but a minor gem nonetheless. I got my copy on Amazon (in 2012), where it is currently available as an "on-demand" DVD-R with full color artwork in the DVD case and also on the disc itself. (For some reason, I half-think it is actually the director who is selling them himself, but this is pure speculation.) The transfer is workable, but as the fuzzy print testifies, this has in no way been remastered. In fact, I'd actually love to see a very clean copy of the film, but considering its relative obscurity, I seriously doubt that will ever happen.