Set in an alternate modern society where witches are real, Falling Stars hooks the viewer from its opening premise. Each year around October witches fall from the sky to claim people in a ritual known as the harvest. With every advancing year the harvest drifts ever earlier, causing panic and unease amongst the global population. Despite the yearly occurrence, some still question the legitimacy of the belief in witches. On the eve of the newest harvest, three brothers – Mike (Shaun Duke Jr), Sal (Andrew Gabriel) and Adam (Rene Leech) – set off into the desert to view a witch’s corpse, accidentally kicking off a tragic series of events.
Written by Richard Karpala and directed by Karpala and Gabriel Bienczycki, Falling Stars is a mesmeric cosmic horror that explores the bonds of family. Told almost entirely within the confines of the three brothers, Falling Stars is strikingly intimate whilst simultaneously building out an expansive world and society. Witches have a long history of being persecuted, and by placing them in the position of power, Falling Stars goes some way to re-balance countless centuries. Although not truly featured on screen, the concept of the witch instils enough fear into the audience. Their unease comes solely from stories that the brothers and those around them discuss, but when coupled with the trio’s own disquiet, the tension amps in a very interesting way.
Although Mike and his brothers may venture into the wilderness to catch a glimpse of a witch, each of the three is filled with superstition and caution. These are not the reckless teens out for a good time regardless of who gets hurt. Instead, their journey is more of a pilgrimage, as in Stand By Me. They want to come face-to-face with the big bad that lurks around them to confirm that it is indeed real. Their fear when events start to corrode their safe space is palpable, and rightly so. As the aftermath plays out, both the viewer and the characters are left with the unsettling thought that anything, and everything, could be lurking around the next corner.
In Falling Stars, Bienczycki and Karpala have painstakingly crafted a complex and consuming style. The desert at night setting injects an instant brooding atmosphere into the visual appearance of Falling Stars. When accompanied by a haunting score, Falling Stars becomes almost trance-inducing. A film that allows its vibes to speak for them, Falling Stars taps into the magic of Donnie Darko, and gives it an Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson feel, adding an engaging strain of both the supernatural and historical lore. A strong and beautiful slice of independent horror, Falling Stars is brooding, foreboding, and thoroughly mesmerising.
A vibe heavy, slow and steady film, Falling Stars is a visually striking tale of superstition and familial bonds.
Falling Stars was reviewed at Celluloid Screams 2023.