Friday, May 6, 2016

The Witch

   Critically praised, and audience panned; The Witch (or The VVitch if you go by the poster spelling) is something of an oddity. It's a mainstream horror film that leaves genre conventions in the dust. It might as well be an arthouse effort, or something from Lars Von Trier simply due to how different it is. It's a slow burn horror flick that takes it's time to build a raw and unsettling sense of dread. Sometimes it's not about what you see, or don't see, it's simply about what's going on. I get the sense that audiences were looking for more straightforward scares, but The Witch is a movie that becomes terrifying once you imagine what it must be like for the characters.
   It's not a movie of jump scares or cliches, it's a movie about the dark side of faith and obviously... a witch. The movie follows a puritan family who've been exiled from a settlement due to the sin of pride or something. In their new house, near the woods, they find themselves beset by a series of dire misfortunes. Which may or may not be supernatural in nature. The movie never relies on visual violence to shock or scare, but instead the mere facts of the events seem enough. Horrible violence takes place, but takes place entirely off screen. As much as I enjoy a good splatter flick, geysers of blood and flayed flesh are gross, not scary. It's always the facts of the events.

   Regardless, the movie is incredibly moody and atmospheric- apparently shot using nothing but natural light. I found myself captivated by the simplicity and restraint on display. From music cues to cut aways, an authentic setting, and the fantastic cinematography, The Witch uses everything at it's disposal to generate a raw tension and a thoroughly unnerving tone. It's slavish faithfulness to authenticity is more than just admirable and impressive, it's a key element of movie and how well it works. The setting, (New England, 1630) feels both foreign and familiar, like a biographical drama of a time period we'll never get to see firsthand.

   That doesn't make the main characters' struggle any less relatable. They're simply trying to survive and make a life for themselves, but those goals become much more dire and immediate once a mysterious woods-dwelling witch begins to interfere with them. The movie documents their downfall, beat by beat, and the acting is fantastic to boot. Newcomer director Robert Eggers has branded the movie a New England Folktale, and as a result it doesn't pretend to be a story of twists and turns. It's a straightforward tale of dread and horror.

   I suppose it helps to know what you're getting into. This isn't everyone's cup of tea. I get that. I respect that. But, that doesn't mean it's not a good and well made movie. Too many people can't make the distinction between something they dislike, and something actually bad. I would have so much more respect for someone who could explain why they dislike this movie, while also acknowledging that it's not a bad one. I've seen movies I didn't like, yet could totally admit that it was incredibly well made. The Witch is a movie that deserves such an acknowledgement. It's a fantastic genre effort that does so much with so little. That should be commended. It might break out the evil and satanic imagery sparingly, but when it does- it does so to great effect. Just like everything else in the movie.

   We live in a day and age where traditionally 'scary' images, sounds, and videos can be pulled up and shown at a moment's notice. The current generation is a desensitized one. Scary movies to them are sensationalized. It's become the substitute for comedies. When a character dies, they laugh. When blood splashes across the screen, they cheer. The Witch is a movie that doesn't allow for that kind of reaction. It doesn't indulge in gratuitously violent imagery, and instead takes a more personal route- opting to try and genuinely unsettle it's viewers, not with geysers of blood or endless streams of fantastic imagery, but instead with atmosphere, tension, and suggestion. I'd say job well done.

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