When I think of modern horror films the first ones that come to mind are the biggest hits that I grew up with and still watch occasionally and rather mockingly with the right company. The ones thought of first and most are usually the big budget films with a pretty similar plot with one of maybe three monsters in the roster; a ghost, a demon, or a witch. They’re usually made by the same production company, and it’s either got the same exact aesthetic of most other modern horror films, or it’s found footage. These descriptions aren’t to shame or judge these horror films at all. There are many modern horror films I’ve seen I am extremely squeamish about discussing or watching. A running list of some that always get a vehement NO from me to watch are Sinister, or Insidious. As we’ve discussed ad nauseum this month, I don’t like to think of horror films as something I enjoy often. They’re a dentist appointment kind of viewing for me. I have to do it at least once a year to say I did it. I watched a scary movie and no one can say I hate any particular genre or I’m ‘not celebrating Halloween correctly’…okay, sure but anyway.
So, my friend chose The Witch as the modern era pick for the list they gave me. While I had partially seen this film several years ago in theaters…where I fell asleep about 8 minutes into the thing and woke up with about a half hour left…I was tired; it’s not the movie’s fault I assure you. I was wary. First of all because I had technically seen it already. They assured me however with their insistence of this being the choice. They weren’t wrong (not that I was expecting them to be, they actually read these so…hey). It’s a movie that cuts through modern horror films chock full of jump scares and formulaic character arcs with a very distinct voice and a molasses in January burn before reaching a crafty fever pitch.
The film takes place in desolate 17th century New England. We follow a recently exiled devout family as they toil and plod through harsh harvests, only to be picked off bit by bit (with some psychological torture thrown in along the way) by a witch and the devil himself. The plights of this family are only heightened by their supernatural tormentors, because, like all of us they are humans dealing with some of the hardest aspects of humanity; from grief over the loss of a child, to vanity and pride blinding one to the problems their behavior causes, to just doing the best a person can in their circumstances, but still being blamed for things that aren’t even their fault…because, well, they happen to just be there.
The thing I noticed immediately with The Witch was the acting and the way the pacing enhanced the story. Things are sad and dynamic. The Witch could literally just be a dramatic historic film about a puritan family dealing with their circumstances, and it would be sad and interesting in itself. The actors take the script and bring it to life in a nuanced way where they have all kinds of fun with the language and the story unravelling. Then scary shit starts happening. The Witch is sad and all about the human plight of merely existing alone in a harsh and cruel world with nothing but faith to cling to; except…until it most decidedly, is not. It’s maliciously artful and brings its black magic into a realistic world and gives the audience a ‘realistic view of what black magic would look like as it happens; just surreal and awful’. My friend said that in a discussion we had after I watched The Witch, and I can’t think of a better way to articulate it.
I highly recommend the film for any sort of viewing. Even if it’s just to marvel at Anya Taylor Joy and the rest of this incredible cast. It’s a very spooky and unique view of a witch tearing a family apart, and it can be a nice break between something with a little more adrenaline spiking horror.