Friday, July 1, 2016

The Witch Review

Don't go into the woods alone.

2016 has been a pretty damned good year for horror films. Between movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Conjuring 2, you can't help but feel that horror films are gaining some level of legitimacy again in Hollywood. For a time, horror movies just boiled down to slasher movies or cheap jumpscare ridden ghost movies, but now horror is branching out into new, or at least fresh, territory. Consider this another brief little three part series looking at three modern horror movies that I feel like show a clear indicator for where the genre is at. And first up, we have The Witch, a New England horror film that rips ideas straight from The Crucible.

While that may not exactly be an apt comparison, it's hard to not draw similarities between the two stories. Both of them involve Massachusett families and their relationship between God and how fear can motivate a person to do terrible actions. While The Crucible uses those ideas to forward how fear and propaganda can motivate societal change, The Witch uses those same tools to show quite literally going insane. It's The Crucible, but taken to the logical extreme where no one can trust anyone and a family tears itself apart because of it.

A family of six decide to leave the village that they belong to because of ethical differences. Exactly why is unclear, but the family moves into the woods and build a house and a farm to live on. However, something sinister is living in the woods, and their youngest son, a baby, goes missing, animals begin to act strangely, people begin to act even stranger, and the question is asked if what's happening has a rational explanation, or is it actually the devil and witchcraft.

Where The Witch works wonders is in its tense atmosphere. All of the colors are muted and there's barely any music present, but every second you can't help but feel uneasy about the whole proceedings. The simple act of watching the family eat dinner is unnerving because of how much they mistrust each other, with the youngest siblings throwing around the idea that there's a witch living in the woods, or that the eldest daughter may in fact be a witch herself. Every scene is unnerving to the point where even normal scenes are made unbearable because of how oppressive the environment is. You can take that fact as either a critique on the customs presented in the movie, or on how effective of a horror movie this is.

Movies like The Witch are hard to come by, because it's a horror movie with something that isn't well known in the genre; subtlety. Horror movies tend to not be subtle, and that can be because of a variety of reasons. The nature of horror implies that something needs to evoke a strong reaction in a person, either of fear or terror, and most directors tend to fill that void with loud bangs or shocking moments. That disruption causes us to be taken out of our comfort zone, thereby creating a reaction in the person.

The Witch is subtle and doesn't have any major jump scares in it, but the imagery itself is does the job well. Bizarre images are shown the the audience and the images combined with the performances terrifies the audience because of how surreal and strange they are. That being said, I wouldn't call The Witch scary, or at least scary in the traditional sense. It is scary to see how quickly a family will devolve into violence and insanity, and it is scary to see the degradation of the human soul, but it isn't "run out of the theatre screaming" scary. It's like the horror from H.P. Lovecraft; you're scared by the idea of this evil, not the evil itself.

Now, that doesn't mean that the movie is a perfect horror movie. If anything, the beginning is slow and takes a while to really get going, and the characters themselves aren't exactly memorable. I've been calling all of them by their family titles because, to be perfectly honest, I forgot their names. Their names and personalities have no impact or importance to the plot besides their family archetypes. The eldest daughter is responsible yet wants to break away from her family, the father is strict and has anger issues, the baby is pure innocence, etc, etc. I know horror movies typically don't have that many memorable characters besides the villains, but The Witch has no villain, or at least a villain that actively hunts the family.

So would I say that the movie is good? Yes. It's damned good and is probably one of the best horror movies of the year if only for its awesome imagery (seriously, you'll never look at milk the same way again). My problems with the movie just stem from its focus on delivering atmosphere and ideas more than character and pacing. Best when it makes its ideas this compelling and the atmosphere so great, it's hard for me to deny its quality.

The Witch is a smart horror movie and it's a horror movie with a lot of unique ideas that aren't talked about or shown in the genre. It's a slow burn of a movie, but the payoff is jawdroppingly good, and the ending is just purely haunting. It ends on such a bleak note, but it's so perfect that I would say just see the movie for the ending alone. If you've ever wanted to see The Crucible as a straight up horror movie, then this movie is for you. For everyone else, try The Witch out. It'll certainly be interesting.


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