A new beauty film: Thatcher, 80s glamour and the horror of now

In a new short film, The Switch, director Benedict Brink and stylist Isabel Bonner explore the magic and seduction of make-up

Welcome to Witch Week, a campaign dedicated to exploring how witchcraft, magick and beauty intersect. Discover photo stories shot featuring real witches in NYC, a modern reimagining of the witch, and one witch’s mission to get a tan, as well as in-depth features exploring herbology, science and alchemy, and male witches. Elsewhere, we’ve created four special covers to celebrate the campaign and our one year anniversary – something wicked this way comes.

“To alter ourselves, subtly or in the extreme and portray ourselves as somehow different to what we are in our naked form is a type of magic.” – Benedict Brink & Isabel Bonner

In 1770, the British parliament introduced a law that any woman found guilty of seducing men into matrimony through cosmetic means such as scents or cheek and lip paints would be tried for witchcraft. 

The occasion marked just one moment in a long history of make-up and the ability to transform one’s image with it being regarded with suspicion and accusations of magic. It is this relationship between the two that is taken as the basis for a new short film from director Benedict Brink and stylist Isabel Bonner who set out to explore the ways glamour can be used to convey either innocence or evil, and how a woman perceived as beautiful is at once desired and feared – deemed untrustworthy and deceptive. 

Set in a warped reality, “somewhere between now, Thatcher-era 80s and a realm of total fantasy,” The Switch follows a mysterious female character through a transformation that asks us to question who in society is regarded as innocent and who the villain. Taking inspiration from the camp horror of B-film horror imagery, Brink and Bonner also looked to political figures like Margaret Thatcher to get a sense of the ways politics play into our ideas of femininity and the conformity of beauty. Here they reveal to us more about the film and the intersections of magic and beauty. 

What was the concept behind the film?

Benedict Brink and Isabel Bonner: We wanted to look at how the pursuit of perfection and the pressure to conform to an ideal of prettiness and femininity, one way or another can lead to something monstrous. Our shoot was about beauty as a trick or a spell with some ambiguity over who is the innocent party and who is the villain in this scenario. 

The story explores how female beauty and sexuality has been portrayed as dangerous, manipulative, and evil. This is a story sold to us. It can be found in fables of witches, fairies, and most disturbing, our politics. We reference B-grade erotic horror films and various mythologies as an example of this strange fear of the feminine. Glamour as a trick or a spell is evident in these films through the perfectly painted faces. At first, the women seem harmless, enticing and innocent, but then the wild, monstrous, feminine arises and we see their character as wicked and coercing. We represented these two sides with 80’s glamour inspired make-up and wild hair. 

What significance do the beauty looks have in the film?

Benedict Brink and Isabel Bonner: As the film progresses, her make-up, hair and nails expose parts of her inner state of being or turmoil. She goes from raw and completely unmade – a state in which she feels uncomfortable, to a picture of perfection in Barbie pink nails, pastel make-up and tight blonde curls. She starts to come undone, physically unravelling. This is showcased by her curls getting big and wild just as she mentally unravels as well. She then transforms entirely with long black hair, eerie, translucent, pointed white nails and heavily lined lips and eyes. 

As her perfect hair and make-up start to unravel, our female character frees herself of the male characters shadowy, controlling presence and reveals her inner wild feminine.

How did you use the beauty as an expression of magick? 

Benedict Brink and Isabel Bonner: Women are sold an idea of prettiness and how they should look. Yet when they fulfil this expectation they are often seen as suspicious and untrustworthy. In a way, this is a darker magick that lurks in our culture. The perfect make-up, hair and nails that she wears are an expression of that dark magick. 

In another sense, her outward appearance is used to mask or mirror her inner world at different moments, which feels like an expression of a different kind of magick. Our female character played by Yuki is transformed by the different, quite extreme make-up that we used to tell our story.  Painting your face with make-up, changing your hair etc. has an immediate effect on how people perceive you and that is magick.

Director Benedict Brink, DOP James Henry, styling Isabel Bonner, make-up Ammy Drammeh, hair Yusuke Morioka, nails Loui Marie, models Yuki Beniya and Hidetatsu T, camera assistant Piero Cioffi, stylist assistant Olivia Fiddes, make-up assistant Saori Tan, casting Nicola Kast, movement director Les Child, music Russell Jones, editor Sarah Keeling, edit and grade David Potter