I just spent way too long considering whether or not I should spell that the ole timey way, like “The VVitch” or not.
For a long time, I’ve really only considered two movies about witchcraft to be good: “Haxan” and “Anti-Christ“. I guess now I must put “The VVitch” up there as well, though it’s still not as good as either of those.
To be fair, no movie will ever be Haxan, and I don’t think any movie would ever aspire to be like AntiChrist. However, like AntiChrist, The Witch is about our need to conquer and subdue nature, and nature’s obstinence and stubbornness to not just allow itself to be tamed and reigned in. _________________________________________________________________
I’m not sure when the occult and witchcraft became cool, but it certainly did, and I don’t see this trend going away anytime soon. I think its roots can be found in the rise of popularity in stoner rock, then stoner metal, and then black metal. People like that imagery. It’s nihilist. It’s misanthropic. It’s something we can all identify with, as the technology that was supposed to bring us together, keeps us separated more and more from each other, and from real and visceral experiences.
And I’m pointing the finger at myself too. If left to my own devices, I’d order everything to be delivered and stay inside and play games and watch movies all day. The less I can be bothered with other people, the better. And it’s this isolation that makes us hate our fellow humans even more.
And so comes “The Witch”.
A family in Puritan times moves into the wilderness to make for themselves a home. You know they are Puritan because they wear funny hats and talk in the olde timey kind of ways. Like “thee” or “thine” and “That displeaseth me”. It takes some getting used to. I honestly found myself almost wishing I’d gone to a showing tonight, just to see the reaction of all the rednecks who are bound to go see it, hoping for the next “The Conjuring”.
The father, good Christian Puritan man that he is, even says something along the lines of, “this wilderness must be conquered”. And that is, more or less, what the whole movie is about. None of us can live in harmony with nature. I know hippies are all about thinking they are living in harmony with nature, but they are not. Unless you are naked and starving to death, you are not in harmony with nature. You killed a plant to wear your cotton clothes. To be in harmony with nature is to be at war with man.
Nature would have its revenge, but our brains have finally sorted out bulldozers, Round-Up weed and plant killer, pesticides, etc. Our Puritan family does not have these things. They do not have the tools to contend with a wild, and malevolent, forest or the things that truly dwell in harmony within it. And thus, sadly for them, they become the ones conquered and subdued. __________________________________________________________________
I don’t mind going to see movies by myself. I don’t prefer it, but I don’t mind it. And if it means I can see something for cheaper, or without a crowd, then all the better. Still, I couldn’t believe it when I got charged $15 for a matinee movie ticket and some Twizzlers. I gave up “junk food” for Lent, yet I forgot and got some Twizzlers. Some FIVE DOLLAR Twizzlers. I’m sure spending that much on Twizzlers is a sin, in and of itself, not to mention it’s a Friday during Lent. What I’m trying to say is, I went into a film like The Witch already with a nagging sense of Catholic guilt. Though the Puritans are decidedly Protestant, you see where I’m going here.
Whether strictly in my head or not, religion has a hold on a part of me, no matter how small. Going into the film, I was curious if the witchcraft was going to be all in the characters’ heads, or if it would be real. Or better yet, ambiguous, like in AntiChrist.
In the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter. What we get is a very spooky tale of a family breaking down in the face of the enormous maliciousness of an untamed country, and their own isolation in its belly. Isolated, both from their fellow man, and from their god.
The film is what some might call “a slow burn” and what most people who post on imdb message boards would call “boring”. In fact, as I was going to the message board to link to it, the top post is “my audience laughed at it”. That is why I go see movies during the day, on the weekdays. It’s almost understandable that today’s audiences would laugh at it. It’s a normal reaction of a person confronted with something that they can’t really make sense of, and are both confused and put off by it.
Personally, I love movies like this. It reminded me of another horror movie that I loved, but others hated, “The Innkeepers“. It just kind of goes along, with a little disturbing thing happening here and there, until the payoff… which is huge. Well, big.
The music is sparse, which I like. There are very few of the “jumpscares”, which is great for me, because I hate to be startled (and being startled is not the same as being scared or afraid). Instead, the music, like the film itself, just maintains the tension throughout the entire film.
It is a very quiet, very tense, movie.
It’s a self-labeled folktale, and it shows. Hints of Hansel and Gretel, and everything you’ve always heard about witches (including the popular origin story about the riding of broomsticks) are represented. This is not about neopagans or wiccans. This is about straight-up Haxan witches. Devil worshippers. Dancing and making sweet gravy with the debbil himself.
That said, the Church of Satan has openly said that the film is a very Satanic experience, seemingly in hopes of tying themselves to it. Ha! They wish! I’m sure they would love it if people thought their religion was actually real and this threatening. I guess if they spent more time actually cavorting with Lucifer, and less time playing Magic: The Gathering, that would be true.
One thing that AntiChrist gets into, and The Witch does not, is misogyny. I wouldn’t have minded a little more of that, to be honest, but The Witch just isn’t that kind of movie. Where AntiChrist was all metaphor (with witchcraft almost representing a very modern hate of women), The Witch still wants to scare you and disturb you.
In that way, it’s not nearly as complicated as AntiChrist or “The Lords of Salem“, but it’s not exactly “fun” either. I’ll probably never watch AntiChrist again, despite thinking it is brilliant, but I’d be willing to give The Witch another go or two. __________________________________________________________________
As I tried to find the exit in my local megaplex, I couldn’t help but notice the other screens and what they were showing inside.
“Kung Fu Panda 3”
“How to be Single”
And apparently, some Christian movie also came out today called “Risen”. It was playing to a packed house (for a Friday matinee), while The Witch had only revealed herself to about 3 people, including myself.
The “Coming Soon!” posters weren’t any different.
My only thought was that “The Witch” does not belong here, in this temple of vapid consumerism. It may only belong on a Criterion Collection release 10 years from now, next to movies like “The Beast” and “M”.
Still, I’m glad it’s there. It needs to be there. And I hope tons of ignorant idiots give it their money. And I’m not even saying it’s an “art” film either, or that it’s hard to “get”. It’s just that people who like their horror in the easily digested forms of movies like “Annabelle” will probably hate it.
UPDATE (2 HOURS LATER): While playing some Diablo 3 (something I do a lot of), and zoning out and going back over the movie in my mind, there’s really a lot more subtext than maybe I gave it credit for in the beginning. The problem is that these subtexts are never really fleshed out as much as I would like. There’s elements of repressed Puritan sexuality (which still messes with American society today), the pressures on a father to provide and the meaning of masculinity (yet another thing that is relevant to modern America), and of course, paranoia and the fear of the “Other”, which is what most critics like to harp on with this movie.
However, I still stand by my stance that, at its heart, this is a film about the malevolence of nature and the untamed spirits that live within us.
UPDATE, the Next Day. Saturday 2/30:
I wanted to point out that I hate how this movie has, somehow on the the internet, turned into a sort of “Donnie Darko” situation. Meaning, people who like the movie seem to think people who don’t like it are stupid and just “don’t get it”. I hate that. That sort of attitude could easily turn me against this movie. I hate “Donnie Darko” because of stupid people like this. It says absolutely nothing about your intelligence if you like this movie or not. NOTHING. Quit being pompous just because you like (or pretend to like) a movie. And quit being so defensive and aggressive if you didn’t like it. NO ONE CARES.
Now that that is off my chest, I want to say that I like the title “The VVitch”. The olde timey spelling is a clue to how the characters are going to talk. I also like that it is just called “The Witch”, meaning it could be a movie that is just about the trope, or the monster, in general, rather than about any specific witch.
A friend of mine sent me a Snow White gif this morning, and I realized how it must have been an influence on this film. This makes sense, since this is a folktale and Snow White is one also.
Just some random thoughts there…