THE WITCH (2016) - MOVIE REVIEW
The Witch is my favorite film since 2011’s The Turin Horse, and it interestingly plays on the same grounds: the primal instincts, fears, and habits of humans hundreds of years ago. The writer/director, Robert Eggers, bases his debut film from his childhood fear of witches growing up in New England, stating they were apart of his earliest nightmares, and that is indeed what The Witch, in true form, is: a nightmare. If the devil himself were to lure you to the underworld, envelop you in pure evil and baptize you completely in said evil, the feeling would equate to seeing the 100-minute entirety of The Witch. Eggers reportedly spent years upon years of research, factoring in from ancient sources the language and mannerisms of the timeframe, and the research he elaborated on for years carries The Witch to absolute terror, brought on by not only mischievous misleadings (A New-England Folktale, the film is billed) and sheer celluloid disturbance, but the realism of the piece itself; initial momentum is not present, but the film soon settles into an atmosphere of which is inescapable, and one finds themselves trapped; trapped as the hunted animals of the New England forest.
There is, however, an interesting divide among audiences--three people walked out of my screening, two of which I believe, based on the point in the narrative, were from boredom, the other one because, you know, devil baptism. Certainly I have not, as many others, given up hope on horror audiences, but there can simply be a disclaimer: the film that you and your date are going to on Friday night to get a good scare? Not The Witch. If that is you, run from The Witch. The strongest of relationships will be broken by this movie in about twenty minutes. In fact, the couple who survives with love still blooming is to be commended, and are probably descendants of the underworld, or my favorite people, anyway.
The aesthetic choices of the director are remarkably ingenious; there are zero frames in the film that suggest a good day for apple-picking. The mood set is a chilling one, and a dishwashing session is suddenly creepier than the latest horror movie doll that walks around at night. The ultimate result is an anxiety level that can be virtually unmatched; the movie teases you to be on-edge constantly, and the actual terror combined with the audience’s paranoia is mixed spectacularly.
Eggers claims his main influence to be Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman, and The Shining. A commonality among these three are a lingering camera, one that captures life and humans in a somewhat cynical manner; an interest thematically in the disintegration of the human psyche; but perhaps, most channeled by The Witch, is an element of mystifying dread that creeps in ever so subtlety from the opening frame. The Shining has the car maneuvering around winding roads by the mountain lake, and The Witch has a wagon set to the middle-of-nowhere location a tumbleweed would cringe at. The isolation of the characters will be the true burden among each film; it is the seclusion from civilization that sparks one of the true, primordial fears of ancient times: the dark, and being alone in it. The Witch doesn’t concern sunlight; it takes its characters to the darkest of dark, the loneliest of lonely, and teases them as the God they pray to.
The film culminates in a spellbinding, can’t-turn-away sequence that should be counted as one of the most horrific of the past several years. There is a terrifying subtlety to the piece that is somewhat abandoned; this could provide an uncomfortable juxtaposition that clashes too much to feel coherent, but Eggers has an auteurist nature about him that provides to the overall finale of witchcraft itself. There are no witches with brooms in this forest, nor are they witches of Hogwarts--they are symbols of evil, messengers of dread, and they appear in the film, yes, and the physical appearance is rare yet frightening enough to feel anything but hackneyed.
I’m a cinephile of little hyperbole; my favorite film of last year, Phoenix, was a film I would give only four of five stars. It’s that rare cinematic gemstone that makes me speechless, breaks me down, deprives me of sleep, distracts me from real life, and there have been two films worthy of that distinction so far this decade. The Witch is the third film to join the group, and can be easily called a modern classic. This film is created by the devil, and the devil has no apologies. The Witch will swallow you whole.
2/21/2016 03:49:08 pm
2/21/2016 06:25:23 pm
Listen, Mr. Bigshot, the opportunity to work with you is absolutely astounding. I've overheard your name in frigid screenings rooms and around the whistling campfires of Lake Asalucacalumbetalucajet. Borderline has contacted me several times within the past eight or nine months, but my refusal was vivid until I got the chance to work with you. Your demonstration of cinema and how to wear a compelling yet subtle trenchcoat on the streets of San Diego is beyond impeccable. I am accustomed to German art-house, but for you, Mr. Bigshot, I am more than willing to make an exception.
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comments on the screen by nolan lampson.