Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Witch

the vvitch
Ever see a movie and feel like you were mislead by the marketing and that maybe you would have seen the movie and appreciated it better if not for the deception? Let's talk about The Witch, then. I've seen horror movies. I've seen slasher films, satanic themed movies, purely psychological horror, ghost stories, whatever. I'm not sure this movie is any of those. I think it has certain elements in common with horror movies, but I'm not sure I would call it that. And if I did, I certainly wouldn't use the terms that you see quoted all over the place to describe this. It didn't "scare the hell out of me," Pete Travers. And as I've pointed out before, I'm an easy mark. But before we go on, I want to point out that it's not a bad movie, at all. It just seems to me like one of those instances where people have a need to label things and when something comes along that doesn't seem to land in an easy to label box, they label it anyway and it's a disservice to all involved.

Spoilers Follow

What the movie does do, very fucking well, I might add, is create a setting and mood that makes danger palpable. Taking place in the early 1600s it opens with a family of recently arrived Puritans being banished from their settlement for "prideful conceit," which was either never made clear beyond that or I missed it. The reason almost doesn't matter, though. The point is that they are set off on their own to find suitable land, build their own home and live out their lives on their own. That alone is actually pretty horrifying when you consider the reality of it. In any case, soon after they have built a house and seem to be settled, their youngest son, maybe 6 months old, is taken. Now, from their perspective, the boy just disappeared under mysterious circumstances. They eventually chalk it up to a wolf, though doubt and suspicion lingers. But from our perspective we get an actually pretty disturbing scene where an old woman is seen taking the child to a cottage in the woods and proceed to sacrifice and bathe in the baby's blood before flying away on stick into the moonlit night. It's all done tastefully and effectively with close ups where you see less than you think you do and it's a great scene. But I take issue with it because I feel like it comes way too soon and preemptively undermines all the tension the film goes on to build after this.

anya taylor-joy

And the thing is, the film actually does a good job of building that tension, but it's not about whether or not the witch will come back. The witch is never the threat as far as they're concerned, but "a witch" might be. We see the family begin to fall apart because of lies and deceptions and scapegoating. But since we know there was an actual witch that took the child, to me, it defuses the conflict for all the wrong reasons. One major theme that plays out is how the oldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is scapegoated due in part to her budding sexuality. The entire theme of female oppression, particularly from the point of view of how religion treats women is beautifully handled. I think it's a big part of why the Satanic Temple has embraced this film, and rightfully so. But again, I have to wonder if it might not have been better served if we hadn't seen the actual witch at the beginning. I believe this would have given the final scene with it's disturbing implications more impact than it did. I don't know.

I will say this. I started to write this post several times, just after seeing the movie on Sunday, and I couldn't decide what I really thought. That is a good sign. Is it a horror movie? I don't know. Not in the traditional sense, that's for sure. But it does deserve to be seen. It's important either way. I just wish people weren't so obsessed with labels.

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