Hello, all! Just some technical stuff: the blog has a new look, but it’s still the same blog, just prettier. I’d love your opinions on the change. Do you like it? Does it look more readable, less readable, etc? I’ve been wanting a change for a few months now, and I think this theme is more visually appealing and more accessible than Eighties Theme I was using. Onto more interesting things: I watched The Witch on opening night. It was a perfect storm of disturbing imagery, chilling music, bleak atmospherics, and bold directing.
Plot Synopsis: After being exiled from their Puritan community, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her family relocate to an isolated valley on the edge of the forest. Her father (Ralph Ineson) can hardly provide with his meager crops and her mother (Kate Dickie) misses England. When the baby disappears under Thomasin’s watch, the family is trapped in a web of evil. Witches lurk at every corner, children disappear, and the once blessed family home becomes a breeding ground for sin and deception. In director Robert Egger’s world, humanity is flawed, but the supernatural is evil.
My take: Oh, boy. The Witch is a slow-burning horror that is never boring, nor even that slow. It starts at Intensity Level 100, and though it has its calmer moments, the foreboding atmosphere that Eggers creates never breaks.The Witch relies on atmosphere, but it doesn’t skimp on the disturbing imagery. Samuel’s disappearance, which occurs about five-ten minutes into the film, is one of the most horrifying sequences I’ve ever seen. Eggers’ use of light and vantage point gives the images an ambiguous quality, so that the viewer’s eyes must adjust before they fully understand what they’re watching. The images are frightening enough by themselves, but Eggers’ technique elevates them to art.
Essentially, The Witch poses a question that is no longer asked. We learn in school that the Salem Witch Trials were built on hysterics and lies, but Eggers’ proposes a different side of history. A side where the real witches go uncaught and unpunished, wreaking the type of evil usually saved for nightmares. The trailer presents the movie as more of a psychological horror than a true supernatural horror. Is the witch real, or is she a paranoid delusion? But the movie takes a definitive position: the witch is real, she’s evil, and you know just how evil she is by the first ten minutes of the film. That is an amazing thing to do.
Lately, horror movies are focused on the surprise twist ending. The Babadook is just a metaphor for grief, one of the twins in Goodnight Mommy is a hallucination, the grandparents are imposters in The Visit, etc. But Eggers bravely goes where no man has gone before (at least in a few years) and sticks by his supernatural premise. He doesn’t need a surprise twist because the witch in question is far more terrifying than any twist could’ve been. I won’t spoil anything, but I’ll say that she is an old-fashioned European-style witch, so you’ve been warned.
The greatest thing about The Witch was that it was unpredictable. I went in with a distinct expectation towards how the movie would progress, but it unfolded quite differently than I had expected. Unpredictability is a unique quality these days. The movie relied on traditional lore, but unless you were very familiar with the particulars of Satanism, it didn’t spoil a thing. The characters, too, never acted like I thought they would. Eggers subtly transcended all the usual tropes associated with Puritans. The father was not the fire-and-brimstone preacher, the mother was not the obedient wife, and Thomasin was not the innocent victim. Eggers gave the characters realism and nuance. That’s no small feat for a horror movie.
Let’s talk about the film’s beautiful craftmanship. Eggers and his crew created an immersive world with accurate period clothing, dialogue, and setting. The actors even had an accurate 1630’s accent. The color scheme of the landscape is mostly browns, greens, and whites, so that the few instances of red pop as dramatically as the film’s crazy-creepy soundtrack. Here’s one song from the movie:
Eggers’ greatest strength is his restraint. He balances the seen with the unseen, knowing full well that what the audience imagines is more terrifying than anything he could show. The finale is masterful in that very little is shown, but the audience feels like they’re at WTF Level 100. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that aimed for a WTF Level 100 finale and actually accomplished that goal. The Witch succeeds because Eggers isn’t afraid of sticking to his guns. The ending of a horror movie should be less of a denoument and more like the director’s final attempt to scare the audience. It should reflect the intensity of the movie without going overboard, but it also can’t be too weak. Eggers’ movie is a tornado of crazy. His ending sequence is a the equivalent of a hurricane swallowing that tornado. It’s absolutely perfect.
Final Consensus: The Witch is a horror movie that hits you like a brick at the theater, but lingers long after you’ve left. It’s the horror movie that aims to scare, no matter what that goal entails. The relentless horror might be too intense for some viewers, but if you like your movies like you like your coffee (black and disturbing), then consider this movie a must-see.
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