Thursday, February 18, 2016


A lot of recent horror films just aren’t scary to me. Not even chilling or mildly startling. Some are downright overrated like in the case of It Follows. Sorry to fire cheap shots but I still honestly don’t understand what folks see in that movie. From the inconsistent plot/rules laid out in the film to the overall bored tone – I just don’t get it (the same can also be said about The Visit).
I’m not saying all this to sound cool like I’m above being startled or I’m “too cool” be scared (and there are a few semi-recent horror films that I do enjoy – like Insidious & Pontypol – but not because they're scary but rather because they're well-made & entertaining). It’s just a lot of horror films are often predictable which sometimes takes the fun out of being scared (you can see a startling or scary moment coming from a mile away) or they try to overcompensate by being unnecessarily shocking & bloody. The Witch does neither of those things. It’s subtle and relies on atmosphere & ambiance as opposed to stuff like (un)scary little children with hair draped over their faces slowly walking towards us down a dark-lit hallway. ...Technically the film does have creepy little children characters but not the typical creepy children one might find in The Ring, The Grudge or whatever POV exorcism film happens to be out in theaters this month or streaming on Netflix.
And don't get me wrong - The Witch certainly has some bloody disgusting moments but they're spread out. There are actually moments in the film that are downright boring. But the 17th century seemed like a boring time so it makes sense.

It should be said that I am not a horror aficionado so take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt...

In The Witch we follow an exiled religious family (headed up by Father “William” & Mother “Katherine”) who have recently relocated to a small New England property right on the edge of a wooded area that appears to be haunted. All seems to be going well for the family until their youngest child suddenly goes missing and the family starts to suspect their oldest daughter ("Thomasin") might be the cause of that and all the other strange occurrences going on.
Naturally this film deals with the barbaric ignorance & religious superstitions folks had about witches & witchcraft back then, but if you take out the horror element, this is a drama about the breakdown of a family due to the insertion of an unspoken “virus”/threat similar to Pasolini’s Teorema or Francois Ozon’s Sitcom (a loose remake of Teorama). This isn't meant to be an all-out brag but co-star Anya Taylor-Joy thanked me for bringing up this point at the Q&A I attended. Not only did the actors portray a family living on top of each other in a small space in the movie, but they also lived together during the filming of the movie so naturally reality seeped in to the story. So whether you're a fan of scary movies or not, The Witch does branch out to genres beyond just horror. 
Director Robert Eggers still isn't beyond playing in to traditional horror tropes. As you can imagine there are quite a few startles & possibly scary moments (depending on your threshold) and the score is both sparse & jumpy at the same time (I guess one criticism I have is that the score sometimes made it obvious as to when something spooky was about to happen).

What I found most interesting about The Witch (on a personal level) is that it seemed to draw inspiration from the (few) positive aspects of Ben Wheatley’s Kill List. Both films have a creepy/mysterious tone, they both death with the occult and they have similar color palettes (I highly doubt this was intentional but perhaps Kill List had a subconscious influence, or the similarities are just a coincidence). I’m not a fan of Wheatley’s 2011 horror/thriller but the one thing Kill List did have going for it was ambiance and that certain element of “coolness” – the tone of the film was dark & grey, a good portion of the dialogue was both “in the know” & mumbled, and Wheatley took his time setting up moments in the film that were meant to startle or shock us. Basically - there wasn’t a whole lot of blood & guts and forced satanic symbolism around every corner of the film (I have since grown on Kill List – although I still think it’s overrated - but to read my original thoughts on the film, click here).

Besides Kill List, The Witch seemed to come from the mind of someone with an appreciation for all kinds of cinema. Visually, I was reminded of everything from the Exorcist & Salo

…to not-so obvious (borderline) horror films like Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day

Unfortunately because the film is so new I don't have certain specific images to compare, but there are sequences that might remind one of The Shining (the second time we see the film's possible antagonist) as well as Antichrist or the obvious Wicker Man (the very ending). But these will have to do for now...

Director Robert Eggers, who self admittedly is obsessed the folklore behind witches & witchcraft, was also a teenager when the Blair Witch phenomenon hit so perhaps there’s some subconscious residue from that as well (again, I’m sure all of this is a coincidence, but a cool coincidence nonetheless).


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...