Friday, March 4, 2016

The Witch » Movie Review

the witch 2016The Witch (2016) is a movie that's really got me thinking, trying to puzzle it out.

Looking back, the key was always at the beginning.  During the title screen, the card reads "The VVitch: A New England Folktale."



This is a movie made for folk who aren't alive anymore.

If the theatre were full of little puritans, in their caps and hats, from the 1600's, and they were all watching "The Witch," it'd be the perfect horror movie.  They'd be scared shitless.

It's just like when I saw The Exorcism of Emily Rose as a kid.  Growing up ultra-Catholic, you better believe I knew Satan and demonic possession were real.  That's what made the movie transcend horror for me.  How can I explain this... when you see a horror movie that so specifically and pointedly exploits your beliefs and fears, what you're watching becomes real.  Because your belief system says, this could and does happen. After watching Emily Rose, I prayed the rosary every night for a month to ward off evil.

Likewise, a puritan audience, who truly knew witches existed, would find The Witch disturbing the core.  They'd go home from the movie, truss up their teenage daughters, and make them recite the Lord's Prayer. And they'd mean it. However, the modern audience doesn't believe anymore.  There's even a little children's grammar rule that laughs at the idea.  I use it when teaching English, the uses of 'who' and 'which': "People aren't whiches."

All of this is the say — I argue that modern audiences can't be truly terrified by The Witch.  But we can get startled, suspended, grossed out, unnerved, and have fun while having a bit of a history lesson at the same time.  This is what kept early American colonists up at night.

The Witch is, at its core, a family drama.  At the beginning of the movie, our characters leave the safety and provision of their puritan compound because the father has a dispute with church elders — a matter of religious interpretation.  They depart for the wilderness, where they can practice their faith with independence. They settle on a piece of land on the outskirts of a tangled wood.

the witch wood

Dun dun.

The movie's protagonist is the teenage daughter, Thomasin.  She has wheat-blonde hair, wide-set eyes, a pinchable nose, and a full, stubborn mouth.  Visually, she's the perfect representation of her character — lovely, alluring, forthright, and fey. The casting here was spot-on.  Even more perfect, Anya Taylor-Joy gave a wonderful performance.

thomasin the witch

Supporting Thomasin's character, are her mother and father and four little siblings...

Kate Dickie was a bit typecasted. She's well-known for her indignant nostrils, and for her role in Game of Thrones as Lysa Arryn, who breastfeeds her ten year-old son. Sure enough, one of the first things Dickie's character does in The Witch is... breastfeed. Despite this odd reprisal, I thought Dickie really went after her act, teeth first, and that was admirable.

Dickie's counterpart, Ralph Eneson, the stolid, prideful patriarch, with his fog-horn voice, didn't have to work too hard at his job.  He frowns, grit his teeth, chops wood, and intones — that was pretty much the extent of his emotional expression. I think there was room there for a greater performance.

Harvey Scrimshaw, as the stripling Caleb, was every young, pre-teen boy you've ever loved and hoped good things for.  His chemistry with Anya Taylor-Joy was wonderful.

Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson, as the young twins, represented every kid you've ever wanted to slap, then questioned your own character for thinking such things.

lucas mercy the witch

Is The Witch a feminist movie?

I don't think so (not that it would be a bad thing). What I do think is that the movie — as a horror film that explores historical fears — taps into humankind's past anxiety regarding female independence and sexuality.  This doesn't make The Witch carry a feminist message or agenda.  It merely states a fact — this is how things used to be.

I think the confusion and debate regarding this matter comes from the final minutes of the movie. [spoiler]Thomasina, stained in her mother's blood and having signed Satan's book, levitates into the air with her new coven, ecstatic. [/spoiler] Indeed, the ending of the film is highly, highly interpretable.  I do have an opinion on the subject.  [spoiler]In my opinion, Thomasina has not been 'liberated,' as a woman. After all, she just signed a contract with Lucifer. She is now a slave, in matter of fact. She is depicted as happy, ecstatic even, but this can also be interpreted as a sign of her giving into madness, having witnessed the downfall of her family at the hands of evil. It's an origin tale... The beginning of a new story. Thomasina becomes "The Witch of the Wood" — the character of the folktale. All along, we were watching the personal story of how a person would become such a fantastical, inaccessible figure of legend.[/spoiler] However, I do feel as if my views are up for a debate.

All in all, The Witch was a new kind of horror experience for me.  I've never thought to access history in such a way before — through the fears of our country's ancestors.  However, the realization that this is what the movie was trying to accomplish only came to me after some thought and rumination.  The Witch could have benefitted by more clearly communicating its thematic message.


  1. This sounds really...I don't know interesting maybe LOL. Thanks for the review on this, I'm not sure if I would like it or not.

  2. i can't say I'm familiar with this movie. this is the first time i've heard of it. these types of movies are the kind that scare the bejesus out me simply because movies set in this particular era makes it even all that scarier regardless of how lame it would be to some. Lol.

  3. If you like to be scared... maybe you'd like it! But maaaaybe not.

  4. I enjoyed it! (I like scary movies... sometimes) But ultimately I probably won't ever watch it again.

  5. Hi Ellen. I'm totally agree with you. This is really a new kind of horror film that shocked me stay. Don't you think that a woman's image is exaggerated and artificially powerful? Thanks for sharing.