The Woods of Hawthorne, Illinois are Haunted…

“I wanted to make a horror movie that toys with your expectations. ‘Hag’ starts as one thing and then morphs into something totally different. There’s a lot of twists and turns, so hopefully our audience has fun with that. This is a film about three women making a film and having all of it go horribly wrong.” – Director Paul A. Brooks

Hunting For The Hag (2023) does exactly what director Paul A. Brooks wants it to: it toys with your expectations. Unfortunately, you may be let down. The film opens with Tara (Jasmine Williams) sitting in an interview room with a “lawyer” (Daniel Roebuck), who tells her she’s in a world of trouble. She insists that if he watches the footage she has loaded onto her laptop, he’ll see that she’s not guilty. This leads viewers to believe they’re about to see the wild footage that Tara shot while filming her documentary about the legendary Hawthorne Hag, and while that’s partially true, for the most part, it’s not. It feels like Brooks couldn’t decide if he wanted this to be a found footage film, or a campy 80s-style slasher complete with sexual violence against young women and plenty of cleavage shots of co-writer Sierra Renfro (who plays Candy, the stripper). 


Hunting for the hag

There are definitely lower-quality cameras used to film Tara’s portion of the footage, as would be expected for a young indie filmmaker, including a shoulder-mounted Go-Pro. Tara is serious about the project and excited that her friends Candy (Sierra Renfro) and Beth (Alexa Haris) agreed to help. They’ve rented a house on the plot of land where the Hawthorne Hag is rumoured to exist, and spend some time partying in the pool before darkness falls. Beth knows what she’s doing with a camera, but Candy only tags along for the free beer she was promised. Beth has also researched the legend and serves as the team’s expert on the subject. At a campfire later that day, she pulls out a spell book and they attempt to summon the Hag. Everything seems fine, if a bit creepy, as the trio explore the woods at night looking for the “Hanging Tree” where the Hag, Ollie Yeager, was wrongfully hung two hundred years ago. They find the tree, but then a prank gone wrong turns their trip into a true nightmare. There’s more evil in those woods than whispers about a phantom Hag. 

Humans are the worst monsters out there, and Hunting For the Hag proves it. What the girls encounter in the woods leads to a horrifying experience for all of them, and serves as a lesson about going into dangerous places without some method of self-defense. Tara’s camera captures some of the story, but most of it is shot traditionally by an unseen cameraman. This becomes a problem when we are returned to the interview room at the end of the movie and told that Tara has spent the past two months compiling her footage to create the film she’s just shown the lawyer to prove her innocence. (Okay, people died. Not a big surprise.) She also seems to have developed serious scars on her face that were not present at the beginning of the interview.


Hunting for the hag

Technically, Hunting For The Hag is difficult to watch at times. Most of the footage filmed at night from Tara’s POV is so grainy and pixelated that you can’t really see anything. While it’s understandable that she would have lower-quality equipment, it doesn’t make sense that a documentarian would set out at night with a camera that wouldn’t be able to capture much usable footage.  There are slasher scenes, but most are shown through Tara’s lens while it’s being kicked around, making them jostled and unclear. There is no explicit gore or nudity, contrary to the film that inspired Brooks, Mother’s Day (1980), but the torture and assault of the girls firmly places this film within the horror genre. 

The Hag does make an appearance (Nathan Brandon Gaik), and as it turns out, it’s just as menacing as the humans. Viewers will appreciate the design and costuming of the Hag and the vengeance it acts out indiscriminately. The best part of this movie, though, is the acting. Every single actor plays their role well and carries the film past its problems to make it a memorable view. This is one of those projects that feels like the only thing standing between it and greatness is lack of funding. If you’re a fan of folk horror, give this one a try and let us know what you think in the comments!


We watched Hunting For The Hag for the 2024 Unnamed Footage Film Festival.

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