In “Theaters” Now: The Witch

Hey! Look at that… I actually followed through with my promise: two posts in two days! As I teased in yesterday’s post I wanted to share my thoughts about the movie The Witch, which is currently in theaters (and you can find the trailer on this blog… somewhere (or just google it)). I went with a couple of my friends earlier in the week, and similar to yesterday’s movie (Creep) this one has stuck with me… similar to Creep, though, I can’t say that this means it was good… but it was something different… and as always, I appreciate that. Wait, let me take back that last sentence. I can definitely say that this is a good movie… what I can’t say, though, is that it is a good horror movie… but, I can’t also say it was a bad horror movie. Okay, so, we all good here? We all clearly understand how I feel about The Witch?

The Witch (belle of last year’s Sundance ball) is a historical horror movie (there’s a sub-genre I haven’t seen before (though, I’m sure it exists)) that takes place in Puritan New England (hence the subtitle of the film: A New England Folktale). The basic story revolves around a family that is excommunicated from a plantation (and the New Englander in me kept obsessing over whether it was Plimoth Plantation (I guess I can blame the yearly fieldtrips for that (while we’re on the topic of those fieldtrips I have a bone to pick with one of the “actors” that worked there… when a ten year old asks you “how many kids lived on the plantation” and you respond with “I’m not sure how many goats we have… perhaps you mean to ask about the children”… you’re not being funny, you’re just being a dick)))… okay… seriously, where was I? That was a long detour… right, the plot. So, the family excommunicated from the plantation (I’m still wondering if it’s Plimoth Plantation… curse you Mrs. Greene (want to hear something horrible… I can’t remember the names of any of my teachers before high school… I just had to make up the name Greene (sounds like a plausible name though, right?)). Dammit, Adam… focus… the plot, the plot! Right, so, family = excommunicated. Several months later (I presume, since there is now a baby that wasn’t there before) they have set up a homestead near a forest. One day the oldest daughter brings the newborn out to the field to play. During a suspenseful game of peek-a-boo (why is that game always ominous when played in a film) the baby goes missing. The remainder of this film deals with the consequences of this event as well as a dark force in the forest. I don’t want to say too much more.

For a movie that takes place in two settings (the farm and the woods (and 95% of it is at the former)) there is quite a bit to unpack. Again, this movie has stuck with me throughout the week and I feel like I’m still processing it. For that reason, my write-up might be a bit shorter than usual and (more) disjointed. My first thought is that this is a very ambitious film. At the end of the movie there is a scrawl that states the filmmaker (writer/director Robert Eggers in his film debut) used historical sources (such as court transcripts) to make the language as historically accurate as possible. At times, this means you feel like you’re watching a foreign movie. In fact, there was a bit of an adjustment period needed to get acclimated to the 1600s English being used by the characters. However, in the end, I think this was a good decision. It adds an air of authenticity to the film. You can feel the amount of effort and research the filmmaker put into the movie. In addition, while at times feeling more like a play than movie, the film is far from boring. There is a strong level of suspense and dreed that permeates throughout. The filmmaker relies on the collective unconscious of Americans’ knowledge of witch trials. There is an undercurrent of fear and anticipation that at any moment someone in the family will be accused of being a witch… and we all know how that will go.

So, in the end the film is not boring and it is genuinely suspenseful. That being said, it’s not without its flaws. First, as a horror movie, it is somewhat lacking. There are very few genuine scares (though, that’s true of most horror movies, so it’s hard for me to hold that against it). Though, it doesn’t really try for scares… it’s more of a tonal movie than a horror movie (and it deftly achieves the tone). The other issue I had with the film (and this is really just a matter of opinion and choice, so, I can’t really fault the filmmaker for it) is that at times is seems to go the is-it-or-isn’t-it-something-supernatural route. Personally, I never find this very interesting… however, that’s not the problem here… the issue is that it firmly establishes that it is something supernatural fairly early in the film (like, within the first ten minutes). So, now that you know it something supernatural… you wait, and wait, and wait, for something supernatural to happen again… meanwhile, the filmmaker is trying to get you to question the premise that had already been firmly established. It felt a bit too having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too. The last thing I want to mention is that I felt like the movie was going to have a supremely unsatisfying ending… in fact, I spent the last ten minutes waiting for it to simply cut to black. I was pleasantly surprised by the ending… it doesn’t answer everything, and doesn’t answers what it does in a way that I may have wanted to, but it is a clear ending… and I appreciated that.

It’s funny… I walked out of the film thinking (and stating out loud to my friend), well, that was a good movie, but I don’t think I’ll see it again… now, nearly a week later, I feel a need to see it again… not a want, but a genuine need to see it again.

One thought on “In “Theaters” Now: The Witch

  1. I feel zero need to see it again…. but I think back on it more fondly now than I did the day we actually watched it. Could just be that I really loved hearing the father’s voice. though…

    Liked by 1 person

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