Author Topic: The Witch  (Read 5777 times)

1SO

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The Witch
« on: April 07, 2016, 10:29:24 PM »
I hate writing brain dump reviews. I never know if I'm going to make any sense.

I understand why there's a debate about if this can be considered a Horror film. It's such a unique film that it defies easy categorization, much like Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, which is Science Fiction but missing all the usual SF staples. However, Stalker can get by being labeled a Tarkovsky film and film people will know what that means. The Witch certainly has Horror in it, but it's not the type of Horror that attacks. So if you expect a Horror film you're likely to be disappointed by how toothless it is. Meanwhile the type of audience that might best appreciate its flavor will be warned off by the Horror label. Then again, that's me stereotyping and making comments on my convenient labels.

The language of the script was more difficult than I expected. On one hand, it's vague story points - why were they exiled? was it a literal banishment or something that plays better subtextually? - and period flavor can be rewarding on re-watches, but the poetry of it requires a lightning fast simplification, much like watching Shakespeare, but I'm used to his writing style. This was alien to me. That being said, the overall story wasn't difficult to follow at all. I would just have liked to get more out of the individual scenes.

The ending brings up an interesting discussion that happens a lot with movies but rarely gets such front and center treatment. It's bound to play different depending on how much the viewer tries to pull extra meaning from a scene. I'm more of a surface viewer, so the final moment is really well done. I loved the way it was drawn out. Hearing some disappointment, I kind of figured this wasn't going to end in a battle against the witch, so I could appreciate the power of the ending. However, if you dig into the scene, what is it saying about female empowerment? Isn't it linking becoming a woman and finding your wings to making a deal with evil? And for a film that spends 90% of the time showing that the real evil is man imploding inwards, doesn't the final scene zap that core of its power?

I honestly don't have answers to those questions, and I'm only looking for them to understand if The Witch has more to say, does it say it clearly or does it muddle its own message, or is it more an exercise in style and sustained creepy dread.
* * * - Okay


I heard about the goat, but it was the eyes of the rabbit that freaked me out more.

Junior

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2016, 11:03:51 PM »


But seriously. I get the language problem. I've been reading religious writings in Middle English so it wasn't super hard for me to pick it up, but I understand it being an issue. So yes, they were exiled for being too religious. From a group of already super Puritans.

On the ending. I think part of what the movie does, and I should have tried to get at this in my review which I'll repost at the bottom of this post, is to show how easily we recreate the rules and structures that we struggle under even when we leave them because of that struggle. So when the family goes out into the woods, they go even harder on the patrician puritan stuff. Witches are the opposite of this. They are early feminists (the broom, by the way, has a bit of a different use than just flying, though that shot is still my favorite of the year so far). They break from society and become a coven of women where they need not bend or bow to men, or at least earthly men. Yes, in a modern setting and with modern eyes, having to go through the devil to get there is less than ideal, as it still keeps men as the gatekeeper, but with Eggers's use of period documents, he was a bit shackled by their own thoughts at the time. I loved the ending.


A family is exiled. A baby disappears, a woman cries, a man chops, a girl grows up, a boy wants to, and two kids talk to a goat. This is The Witch, a story of family turmoil, faith, and, you know, a witch. It is an exquisitely composed movie, compiled out of language taken directly from period documents, clothes and sets designed and constructed by period accurate (or as close as possible) methods, and filmed mostly in available light. That means it's dark, and the movie matches the visuals with its thematic concerns. How difficult it must have been to be a Puritan! No room for earthly mistakes, God will punish any and all sins, and the people will make sure they get in on the action too.

For a good portion of the film there are not a whole lot of horror trappings outside the creeping sense of dread so expertly set up in the opening minutes. Instead of jump scares and an emphasis on the antagonist, the film instead focuses on the complicated family dynamics at play as an already tough situation grows infinitely more difficult when the youngest member, still unbaptized, poofs away in a cut. All of this is really well done, supported by an excellent cast and a keenly observant camera. How delightful it is to see a horror film (and it is a horror film!) that is equal to the more traditionally accepted definitions of quality that I must often overlook when it comes to my favorite genre.

I would like to end by talking about how scary this movie is. It is scary. It is getting painted with the same brush as last year's It Follows and the prior year's The Babadook, that it creates a good vibe of creepiness but it isn't scary. As if those things aren't equal. This movie is a testament to the power of a mood created by a group of people working at the top of their (or anybody else's) game. The score is probably the biggest culprit in the creation of this mood, but there are scenes and moments here which are astounding in their terror. Just thinking about them as I write this makes me feel like a terrifying black goat walked over my grave. And the ending! It totally delivers. Like the rest of the movie.
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Melvil

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2016, 11:32:09 PM »
I have to admit, I felt like a lot of the allegory of the story went over my head. Between the struggle to make out a lot of the dialogue (although I absolutely love the choice) and the rather obtuse storytelling I think I need another viewing.

Regarding the ending: What the movie shows are two extremes, first the ultra-puritan lifestyle, and second the coven, and I think both are supposed to elicit horror in their distinct ways. I think the key to whatever message the movie holds is somewhere in between, as the first scenario breaks down and before we are launched into the second. This is where the most most substantive scenes (and my favorites) take place, such as some really good stuff about Thomasin's lack of agency and the father's hypocrisy. Once the pendulum swings to the other extreme, I think we have moved back into full on horror mode, in fitting with the "cautionary tale" stylings of the film.

1SO

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2016, 12:33:06 AM »
But seriously. I get the language problem. I've been reading religious writings in Middle English so it wasn't super hard for me to pick it up, but I understand it being an issue. So yes, they were exiled for being too religious. From a group of already super Puritans.
Ah. See, they call it “prideful conceit" in the film so I thought the father fell from grace and committed a sin because he thought he was entitled to. Even if the sin might be something like having more kids than the village could possibly feed. That one little misinterpretation put me on an entirely different arc than the story you watched. I saw the Father's actions as punishing himself and trying to atone for what he did, even though he was dragging his family through the punishment too.


Regarding the ending: What the movie shows are two extremes, first the ultra-puritan lifestyle, and second the coven, and I think both are supposed to elicit horror in their distinct ways.

I like this. When it gets to the coven at the end I was terrified at what might happen because the tension was finally at the boiling point. In truth, I had chills from the supernatural finale, so much so that I didn't share in how liberating it was for Thomasin to finally be away from the suffocation and pious accusations of the family.


I wonder if there was more with Thomasin's brother having lust for her? It's barely touched on, just a couple of uncomfortable shots really, but that's a story that would be extremely believable under these circumstances but would take some nerve to tell. (Not acting on it, but expressing it a little more overtly every day.) That would've made his encounter with The Witch more powerful, instead of coming off like one of the film's more typical Horror scenes of corrupt seducing pure.

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #4 on: April 10, 2016, 05:05:45 PM »
There was enough of the brother's lust there for me to get the point, though you're probably right that it could have used some more screen time. I do think that the pacing is one of the film's stronger elements, though, so it might also disrupt a delicate balance. It's there if you look for it, but easily missed when you're just trying to keep up with the dialogue. I definitely want to own this one so I can watch it again and more closely.
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1SO

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #5 on: April 10, 2016, 05:59:26 PM »
The brother's lust isn't something I missed, I just think it's such ripe territory and the film got hardly any dramatic juice out of it.

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #6 on: April 10, 2016, 06:05:40 PM »
Right, and I got enough juice from it. I think you're right that there could have been more wrung from it, but at the cost of the pacing. As is, everybody in the family has their own thing, especially in relation to Thomasin. I like that.
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Melvil

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #7 on: April 10, 2016, 06:44:21 PM »
This is a movie that stews real well with ya. I like it more and more as I think back on it. Will definitely be revisiting it when I can.

jdc

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #8 on: May 08, 2016, 07:40:21 PM »
Just watched this last night.  The language took a little bit to get use to but using subtitles helped to mostly understand the conversations.  As of the opening banishment, I also felt it was the families extreme religious view point that caused them to have to leave and not due to having done any particular sin.

This one will certainly get a re-watch very soon. 
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Bondo

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Re: The Witch
« Reply #9 on: June 06, 2016, 01:17:31 PM »
The whole thing just seems to be layered on top of the base religious concept of original sin, or the notion we are born of sin and cleanse it through a life of penitence. So the older son's lust at his sister, her daring to go through puberty and thus take on the role of temptress, the younger kids idleness and play. All fairly natural parts of childhood are transmogrified via their stern religion into failings that can be blamed for life's natural hardships. The parents, arguably the only sinful actors, use this to deflect their own responsibility.

I guess the ending didn't connect as much for me thematically. I don't see it as some alternative horror, I do think it is meant as a moment of escape into something more divine. But it hasn't as yet struck me as a good expression.

On the whole I enjoy the production of the film and the broad themes, but it isn't so coherent or moving to rise to a top position.