“Corruption, thou art my father!”
I’m trying something new. I’m going to try a blog — specifically, a blog for reviewing movies. For those of you who know me, or have talked to me even once, you know I’m a major film buff, and minored in filmmaking in undergrad. I’m a good person, though, so don’t let all that dissuade you from talking to me. The thing I hate most about self-proclaimed “cinephiles” is that it’s a lot of straight white men talking about Citizen Kane and Pulp Fiction over and over, all looking down on movies they consider low-brow, or bad, or pointless. In my opinion, every movie has something to say. In that spirit, I whole-heartedly insist that every movie is watchable, and this is why I’ve created this blog. I’m also notorious amongst my friends for liking every single movie I see. They don’t think that’s valid; I think it’s exciting. Movies don’t need to be complicated to be enjoyed, and neither do reviews. I’m going to prove that every movie is watchable, and you’re going to believe me by the end.
I’m going to be starting with The Witch, or The VVitch: A New England Folktale, a 2015 horror film that I’ve only just got around to watching. Don’t be like me! Let me serve as a warning: if you have not yet seen The Witch, do it immediately. Right now. Finish this review, then go watch it — it’s currently streaming on Netflix. Written and directed by Robert Eggers, a New England native (he grew up in Lee, New Hampshire), The Witch is a love letter to the New England gothic that residents like me love so dearly. The Witch premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 27th, 2015 before A24 released it theatrically in the United States a year later on February 19th, 2016. Luckily, early reviews were positive, so the movie got a wide release.
If you like anything supernatural, horror, historical, witchy, or New England-y, this movie is for you. You can feel the depth of Eggers’ inspiration and devotion to the subjects of witches and early New England, even though he himself said he needed to pull back on his own “weirdness” in order to successfully pitch The Witch. Eggers himself said, “If I’m going to make a genre film, it has to be personal and it has to be good.” By God, did he pull that off. The synopsis A24 provides for the movie says, “New England, 1630. Upon threat of banishment by the church, an English farmer leaves his colonial plantation, relocating his wife and five children to a remote plot of land on the edge of an ominous forest—within which lurks an unknown evil. Strange and unsettling things begin to happen almost immediately—animals turn malevolent, crops fail, and one child disappears as another becomes seemingly possessed by an evil spirit. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, family members accuse teenage daughter Thomasin of witchcraft, charges she adamantly denies. As circumstances grow more treacherous, each family member’s faith, loyalty and love become tested in shocking and unforgettable ways. In this exquisitely made and terrifying new horror film, the age-old concepts of witchcraft, black magic and possession are innovatively brought together to tell the intimate and riveting story of one family’s frightful unraveling in the New England wilderness.”
That’s a phenomenal synopsis, they really nailed what the movie is about and how you’ll feel watching it. I want to do my own short synopsis for those of you looking for a quick understanding of what the movie is about:
A family gets exiled from his small New England town for religious reasons in 1630. The family — a farmer named William, his wife Katherine, their teenage daughter Thomasin, their willful son Caleb, annoying twins Mercy and Jonas, and baby Samuel. When baby Samuel is taken by the witch (or the VVitch, stylized after a 16th century pamphlet on witchcraft Eggers saw) in the woods and killed, the family slowly starts to suspect Thomasin of witchcraft. Meanwhile, Caleb is going through puberty (lusting after both his sister and the witch), and Mercy and Jonas are talking to a goat which they call Black Phillip. Things slowly derail in a devoted love letter to the genre of New England gothic, showcasing traditional old-time witchcraft, the lonely, minimalist desolation of the forest, and the paranoid actions of a terrified family at the end of their collective rope.
Hopefully that’s a little more helpful, if you were still on the fence about the movie. I thought the plot ended up well done, and I would love to see what Eggers’ “too weird” original ideas were for the movie, in all honesty.
In terms of the technical aspects of the movie itself, I whole-heartedly approve. I don’t want to veer too much into technical talk about the movie, since I already made a point of saying that reviews don’t need to be complicated, and I want to keep this as universally understandable and accessible as possible. First of all, though, the casting.
The casting deserves as many gold stars as you can buy at the dollar store, because holy moly, this cast nailed it. The casting was done in England, apparently to get more authentic accents, but there’s no space here for me to go off about the changing and imperfect history of accents, so we’re just gonna forget about that. Despite this, Anya Taylor-Joy, who was still a teenager when the movie was filmed, absolutely steals the show with her emotional and deeply felt portrayal of Thomasin. Her exhausted father, William, was intimately played by Ralph Ineson, who truly nailed his performance as “beleaguered New England father who might have a witch for a daughter).” Harvey Scrimshaw as Caleb, Thomasin’s younger brother, is the most underrated actor in the whole movie, in my opinion. The kid really made me feel for him and believe him as a character. You can’t find this kind of acting in a lot of adults, never mind a child in a horror movie. The cast really pulls this one off and blows it out of the water.
In terms of the script, all I have to say is that I can’t wait for Eggers’ next movies. According to the Internet, he’s not only got the upcoming horror film The Lighthouse (scheduled for release in the U.S. on October 18th, 2019, after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19th, 2019), he also has untitled projects dealing with Rasputin, Nosferatu, and medieval epics, all of which sound awesome and I am whole-heartedly looking forward to them. The minimalist approach to the environment of the film really helps along the “abandoned in the forests of New England” feeling, even though the movie was filmed in Canada (in Kiosk, Ontario) for tax purposes. The use of outdoor lighting (the sun) and indoor lighting (candles) provided invaluable authenticity to the piece. In terms of hair, makeup, and costuming, kudos to costume designer Linda Muir, who completely nailed it. She apparently put the work in, too; according to sources, Muir consulted over thirty books regarding the clothes of these specific sorts of people, from England, traveling to America, during this exact time period, and what materials they should be made of (wool, linen, hemp, et cetera). It is niche work and our lady Linda put it in. I respect the hell out of that as a historian, and it pays off majorly.
The soundtrack is so good I listen to it at work while I’m doing my research reading and writing, and I listen to it on walks. It’s the perfect dramatic mood-setter. Mark Korven wrote the score for the film, and, at Eggers’ insistence, did not use any electronic instruments, nor any traditional harmony or melody. To fit these rules, Korven instead maid a more minimalist score, designed to be improvised and moved around, so Eggers could use the music however he thought best. He also made good on his promise not to use any traditional electronic instruments, instead using instruments like the nyckelharpa, a Swedish string instrument that closely resembles a combination of a fiddle and a hurdy-gurdy, and the waterphone, an instrument I don’t fully understand that the instrument’s creator, Richard Waters, describes as a cross “between a Tibetan War Drum, an African Kalimba (thumb piano), and a 16th century Peg or Nail Violin.” That still doesn’t help me all that much, but maybe it’ll help some of you. I just love some good weird instruments giving me tense feelings while a choir sings dramatically and a witch steals a baby on my screen.
We’ve looked at the movie as a whole (artwork), we’ve looked at the writing and directing (masterful), we’ve looked at the creative elements (beautiful) and the casting (ideal) and the costuming (iconic) and the music (weirdly awesome). This movie feels important to me as a role model for build-up, because, while my friend thought the movie felt too slow at first, I really enjoyed how long it took to build up the insanity. It felt true to the characters and how they would respond to the situation if they were real, in my opinion. The Witch is another triumph of the slowly-reviving horror genre. As a long-standing fan of horror, I can tell you: horror has always been good, people are just remembering how good right now. The Witch belongs on the list of Horror Revival Sensations of the 21st Century, along with Get Out, It Follows, The Babadook, Midsommar, Let the Right One In, and Hereditary.
In my opinion, The Witch is so worth seeing. It’s a damn shame it took me so long to realize that fact, so I’m hoping to save you from the same fate that I have suffered these past few The Witch-less years. My conclusion is that, yes, this movie is immensely watchable, and I highly recommend it for fans of the genre.