Monday, February 17, 2020

Poison For the Fairies, Nectar For Me

I have no memory of adding Carlos Enrique Taboada's Poison For the Fairies to my Netflix DVD queue, but since I'll never turn down a film whose synopsis involves evil little girls, it easily fits right in for The Shortening. 

Quick Plot: Veronica lives with her ancient grandmother and superstitious nanny. Like many a little girl growing up poor in 1960s era Mexico, she wants nothing more deeply than to become a genuine witch, a tic that makes her a little unpopular amongst her prissier fellow students. 

Enter new girl Flavia, a sweet, wealthy student who quickly becomes Veronica's best friend. Veronica convinces Flavia that she's a powerful witch, something that becomes hard to argue with after she grants Flavia's first wish.

All Flavia wanted was to stop taking piano lessons. A few drops of blood to sheet music later and her tutor is dead of a stroke. Sure, Flavia's mother says it was going to happen any day, but between that and the vivid nightmares, Flavia can't deny her new BFF's paranormal powers. 

Far less naive than her richer pal, Veronica uses her newfound reputation to take full advantage of Flavia, whether that means having her "give" Veronica some of her treasures or making Flavia accept the blame for her own nasty tricks. Flavia tries to distance herself from Veronica when a family getaway comes up, but the cunning Veronica is quick to invite herself along, especially since such a remote getaway seems like the perfect opportunity to create the titular potion.

What exactly is poison for fairies? Mostly, pretty gross stuff: toads, snake skin, tarantulas, and so on. As Veronica forces Flavia to help her assemble the ingredients, Flavia finally nears her own breaking point. 

An adorable (and ultimately safe) puppy is obviously involved.

Watching Poison For Fairies, I kept thinking to myself that here's no way this isn't a favorite of Guillermo del Toro and Issa Lopez. Much like Pan's Labyrinth and Tigers Are Not Afraid, Taboada's film plays with a fascinating balance between fairy tale and reality. It may seem obvious to an adult viewing the film that Veronica's skills are based on luck and not witchcraft, but the film is extremely smart about pulling us into Flavia's perspective to understand exactly how strong Veronica's power could be. Certain deliberate filmmaking decisions help, including never actually showing the face of an adult. The incredible performances of young Elsa Maria Gutierrez and Ana Patricia Rojo complete the effect.

More haunting than horror, I found Poison For the Fairies to be genuinely intoxicating. There's a specter of terror that hangs over the whole film, and the fact that it's centered on the innocent wide-eyed Flavia means we truly care. Veronica's Rhoda Penmark-esque savvy is juicy in an excitingly cruel way, making the girls' interactions so darn compelling. 

High Points
There is a LOT to contemplate in Poison For Fairies fitting but still shocking ending

Low Points
While Poison For the Fairies is almost perfectly paced, I could certainly have used a little more of Veronica's bloody fairy tales

Lessons Learned
Girls pray before bedtime because they're afraid

Witches can do anything, especially once they have a richer friend with a better reputation amongst teachers

All pacts with the devil have to be secret

I'm so glad that I finally sat down to watch Poison For the Fairies, but also a little ticked off that I'd never even heard of it until now. I can't stop thinking about this film, and if that's not enough for you to "long wait" to your own Netflix queue or library list, why are we friends?

Also, give me your adorable puppy or I'll put a spell on you.

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