Sunday, October 28, 2018

Halloween Watch: The Witch (2015)


Watched:  10/27/2018
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing: First
Decade:  2010's


When The Witch (2015) hit a few years ago, many people suggested it was in my wheelhouse.  Now that I've seen the movie, and while I think it was effective and scary and hewed close to what little I know of weirdo early European transplants to N. America and their batshit notions about witches and evil and the manifestation of evil - I'm not really sure why, in particular, this movie was something people thought I'd groove on.

Still, as these things go, The Witch is a good horror/ scary movie, and I don't want anyone thinking I'm saying otherwise.

To not avoid the obvious: The movie does do several boilerplate horror movie things that seem increasingly popular for both budgetary and scare-factor reasons, and that means a very small cast, isolated and cut off from other people, dealing with an unknowable threat (and, inevitably, they turn on each other).  Not a big deal in itself, but after a marathon of horror movie of late, you spot a trope or three.

Unsurprisingly, I was left thinking of what I thought I had paid to see when I went to see The Village back in the day - because there's something to what it meant to wind up on the edge of boundless wilderness with non-Anglo locals who might wander into your yard, or large animals which might eat you and the 1000's of other ways one could die by deciding to leave Europe and homestead in New England.  But, of course, once the land was barely tamed and some dirt streets put in, the religious paranoia of the day took hold as the newcomers turned on themselves in infamous accounts we flat out refuse to learn from today.  Manifestations of the supernatural actually occurring here on the edge of the unknown makes for a heck of a story (we've mostly now just moved that into space or underwater).

Our characters are a small family of recent arrivals from England who have gotten cross-ways with their local village and thus head out to start a farm with no one else nearby.  The deeply pious family unit consists of a mother and father, a teenage daughter, a coming-of-age son, very young twins around 5?  I don't know.   And a new infant son.

Not much of a spoiler here, but this isn't a movie that's about "what's really happening?  Is it all paranoia and delusion?"  There's a straight-up witch out there in the woods, and she's mean as all hell - as evidenced by her nabbing the youngest and not bringing him back.

Stricken by grief and unsure of what happened, the family turns on itself even as forces of darkness edge in.

In some ways, the slow boil nature of what happens after the initial shock, and then for about the next twenty-fice minutes may be too slow of a boil, but it does give us a chance to get familiar with the characters and their situation.  There's some genuine, straight up good Horror in this horror movie, from the fates of characters to staging of scenes, mixing points of view.  They don't rely on grotesqueries, but don't avoid the occasional bit of gore or trauma to get a point or scene across.  The bending of reality in ways large and small makes for some great, terror-filled visuals.

Most interesting is that the film (spoiler, again) tells you that the movie was created by researching actual diaries, court records and accounts of what people claimed to have occurred, and that they'd pulled stuff from primary and secondary sources of actual historical accounts of witchcraft of the era to create scenes and dialog.  Thus, the visions are sometimes nightmarish, and when you read words on a page of what some accounts of witches and what they were up to makes no sense when you just see it as words on pages, but to see it actualized on the screen is something altogether different.

I'll be curious to see how or if the movie is remembered, if the hook of the witchery is enough to overcome the boilerplate paranoia, and the inclusion of children in the situation helps raise the canon-quotient.  But, formally, the movie feels beat-for-beat like so many other horror films, it's on a continuum of what's already out there and what is coming.

If, beyond the semi-novelty of the Puritans-in-Peril premise isn't what saves it, the sterling performances by the cast, the excellent cinematography and the highly memorable conclusion should propel it to a higher echelon in horror of this era.

2 comments:

Stuart Ward said...

I think because you've shown an affinity toward movies with those tropes (i.e. The Thing) and also because this movie sets itself apart by trying to be fairly authentic to a specific historical setting that is more often caricatured.

Ryan Steans said...

That makes sense. I think, honestly, after "Isolation" I'm sort of now raising an eyebrow at the "we're trapped and no one can help us in this remote location" thing. It is what it is, but it feels like a lot of modern horror is relying on people who are cut off the entire movie to get their scares.

But, yes, I was very impressed with how much the movie stuck with period appropriate setting, dress, relations, etc... and when the closing note came about, all I could do was cheer them for what they'd done.

And, frankly, the kid actors for pulling off what they did.