I’m so happy independent studios exist. After the veritable vanity fair that is the Academy Awards making waves and dying just as quickly (although, to be honest, it seems as though the public didn’t care too much either, judging from the show’s ratings), it’s hard to get excited about larger releases these days because most just blend together what with the “Oscar bait” crowd. Excluding the s***show stirred up over #OscarsSoWhite, I just find nothing all that spectacular about the Academy now that I see through all the artifice.
Which is why The Witch reminds me why I love movies. Especially horror.
1630. A New England colony. A family of seven are exiled from their town for being a little too down with the big man upstairs. The family—
Patriarch William (Game of Thrones’ Ralph Ineson), wife Katherine (Another Game of Thrones alumni Kate Dickie), eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and twins Mercy (Elle Granger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), and baby Samuel—settle on the edge of a massive forest to do Puritan colonist things. But things go south quickly when Samuel quite literally disappears from under their noses, particularly Thomasin’s. Katherine sinks into a deep depression, sitting in bed and weeping all day. William chops wood. And Mercy and Jonas chase the largest goat, Black Phillip, around in a game that quickly turns unnerving. And a mysterious presence lurks deep in the woods, seemingly watching them as the family slowly begins to turn against each other…
The Witch (or The VVitch, for the olde English crowd) is a very unique film.
For one, it’s a horror film that takes place in the 17th century, it’s a debut feature from directorRobert Eggers, and it’s one of those rare horror films that is low budget but not a complete piece of garbage like most turn out. Horror is looked on as the disposable genre in Hollywood, and that’s a shame, because with horror there are so many unique
ideas that can be executed. Here’s a film that not only sets itself in colonial Puritan America, but it commits to it. Everyone speaks like they read out of the King James (which they did in that time period), the sets and costumes feel authentic, and even the portrayal of the titular sorceress resembles how witches were described back in that period. What we see of the old crone is very slight, she certainly cackles and does the whole black magic thing. And runs around in the buff. Ew.
As the film goes on, we observe how the characters are considered sinful: Caleb reaching adolescence by way of sneaking a peek on his sis’ cleave; Katherine with her faith in God waning over time, William with his guilt over dragging his family out to the sticks, Thomasin with just being a woman. The scariest parts of the film are the ones where there is no witch, the ones where we see humans turn against each other when unexplainable things happen. At some points, the audience is left to doubt what’s real and what is part of the delusion.
But out of a pretty basic horror film comes some pointed criticism and a dark spin on female empowerment.
Adolescence taints you with sin, characters say, and the daughter must be shipped off before she does something rash. Coincidentally, the antagonist of the film is a female warlock, an “evil creature”
bent on blasphemous rites and such. But in the end, is that entirely true? Who’s to say that the real evil isn’t what we’re told to fear, but the beliefs that makes us feel that fear? Is it really the Devil that makes sinful, or is it our desire to purge sin from ourselves that makes us commit evil? Maybe religion makes us hate ourselves for simply being human and having natural impulses, however questionable they are.
This is one of my favorites of this year, and it arrived right in the middle of the dumping ground that is February. It’s like Christmas has come ten months too early, honestly. It’s another example of horror being done intelligently, as it should be. Now to melt those brain cells that I just grew back by watching Gods of Egypt.