I recently saw The Witch. Where I am, wherever that is, I don’t really have control of what they show me. I’m essentially shown what they want me to see when they want me to see it. I am now being told some underling screwed up the usual rune ceremony process that summons said movie. Corporate nonsense aside, I saw The Witch and I was left chilled, a little angry, and a little sad. So I guess, as horror goes, that’s a pretty good indication the movie did something right.
Before I go too far with this: Spoilers! I’m told it’s been out for sometime so if you haven’t seen it (and don’t want it ruined) then I suggest clicking away.
With that out of the way, I think The Witch was a solid movie. The basic synopsis is that a puritanical family is so pious that they are kicked out by arguably the definitive group of pious people in all of America’s history. They set up shop in a clearing and well… evil hijinks ensue.
The movie is dour. I’m talking, dark, oppressive, hopeless, and joyless. This is something we don’t see much in mainstream horror. Usually there is some glimmer of hope. This movie never gives us that hope (not really). The movie starts off very quickly in murdering and eating an innocent baby and doesn’t relent the rest of the movie. It really sets the par for the rest of the movie.
This idea is quite off-putting to me. First off, I will never say I enjoyed a movie that murders babies. Call me old fashioned but I like stories that have a great struggle between good and evil. Ultimately, I tend to lend towards stories that conquer the evil, however narrowly, and at whatever cost. It’s just my preference. There is a lot of evil and chaos around so I tend to like seeing order eventually reign. It’s not even a contest. Evil reigns supreme in The Witch. Which, I find a little one-sided and depressing.
This is not to say that this angle makes the movie “bad”. The story is pretty riveting and it seems to do exactly what it set out to capture: The paranoia of the “God fearing” puritans of the time. In that, it does an amazing job of making you feel the tense dread the family goes through. When I say god fearing, I really mean that. This family has a severe obsession with sin and being unworthy that modern Christianity simply doesn’t teach. They focus so much on “God’s wrath” that they don’t even seem to know about the forgiveness Jesus teaches about. It really makes them easy prey for the evil to take. In fact, nearly every person in the family is a hypocrite and has something to hide. This is emulated perfectly in William’s pride. When he prays that it’s all his fault, he is dead on the money. His stubborn righteousness lands them in the mess and perpetually keeps them there till his peripatetic insight is completely impotent.
It really is a fascinating process to see the family unhinge, turn on one another, and destroy itself. I dare say it’s a bit Cathartic to vicariously experience the horrors that are unleashed by the very literal evil they fail against categorically. So, on one hand, it really is an unnerving movie to watch. But, on the other, it explores the primal emotions of loss and grief that we would never want to experience first hand.
My only real gripe with the movie is the ending. Thomasin watches the absolute evil unleashed upon her family and, whether out of desperation or poor judgement she accepts the devil’s offer to become the very thing that destroyed her life. Some may see it as a feministic metaphor for her coming to womanhood and breaking the confines of her oppressive dogma and culture to be truly free. Her literal ascension into the sky being a figurative ascension to rise above it. But all I see is a trading of one oppressive dogma to another. I see it as a girl who watched her family destroyed by evil who willfully becomes the evil herself and does it rather stoically. There wasn’t much in the way of emotion or torment over her decision. She just casually sells her soul to the devil. Thomasin joins the ranks of people who murder and eat babies. To her credit, she does not know the baby was eaten but it’s safe to assume that she knows, based on how everyone else met their demise, things didn’t go well for her brother.
That ending just doesn’t sit well with me. The movie is joyless in every aspect. To see her become the evil so easily just kind of sucked ay real moral compass from the movie… right along with any enjoyment I might have had. It says to me: “Do what is best for you. Family, obligation, honor… none of that matters. Just go ahead and act on whatever evil impulses you have.”
Perhaps I’m dissecting it a bit too much. Perhaps it is just meant as a cautionary tale that one’s blind convictions, no matter how well-intended, can lead you and everyone around you down a path of destruction. In a way, horror is meant to throw you off your balance so it can catch you off guard. The movie does just that extremely well by subverting the typical horror paradigm. So in that regard, at least for me, it was a flying success.
So I do recommend the movie. It is an intriguing study on the human nature under oppression. I would just caution that there are no warm fuzzies. This movie unabashedly tells it’s tale and really no one has a happy ending.