Also - I'm still without an editor - typos and bad grammar await you!
I keep hoping that the cultural obsession with zombies will end; literally every other damn movie that comes 'round seems to feature some sort of shambling, undead being bent on devouring the weak flesh of regular humans. Once upon a time, zombies have have been used as a metaphor for the blind consumerism created by our capitalist society, or the perceived depletion of resources by immigrants, or even the ravages of time and disease on our frail bodies. Now it seems that the deeper social commentary has been lost as audiences mindlessly consume "zombie fiction" in an attempt to keep up with trends. (How very meta - a film buddy of mine commented on this assessment!) All of this is just a sideways rant, leading up to my actual point: it seems that zombie may actually be losing some traction - knocked aside by The Devil - and let me tell you something - I'm more than ready for this shift!
TV has plenty of evil to offer us from the likes of Lucifer, to Damien, and The Exorcist (out this Fall, I believe.) It's of some interest that the trend has moved from "mindless killing" to "malicious evil intent" - more on this down the road - the thing that I find particularly fascinating is the involvement of women; witches are riding in on the coattails of the devil to make a name for themselves. Not campy, silly, Halloween-y witches. Real, true, evil witches who use their "feminine wiles" to control the world in which they live. They are powerful. They are strong. And more than all of that, they are gloriously happy.
I've previously written a bit about the witch trend in movies from the '90s, which was more of an extension of the "teen triumph" movies from the 80's than a true female empowerment trend. Now, I know that some feminists out there are going to argue about the conflation of "female power" and "evil" in these instances - but I'm going to ignore those arguments here because ultimate power is - however you want to frame it - powerful. While "the world" may see powerful women as Evil, that's no one's business but those who have those thoughts. It's up to these strong women to not give a fuck about what anyone else thinks of them. (Want to fight me? Send me a message any time.)
Lets turn that digression into a segue here: I was excited when Salem came around - seemed like a great opportunity to bring this classically evil and supremely powerful take on witchcraft to the masses. How unfortunate that they instead opted to paint their witches as a bunch of idiotic, love-struck women who spent an excessive amount of time scheming and backstabbing one another (like a bunch of modern-day socialites) only to crumble at the feet of a bunch of men. Disgusting. And pathetic. I spent nearly every episode going, "Why don't they just kill these guys?! They are SUPREMELY powerful! Why are they letting ANYONE control, manipulate, or hurt them?"
I suppose, the slightly more successful presentation of tv witches was the (abysmally written) third season of American Horror Story (Coven). These witches, while still backstabby, were certainly more comfortable in their own skins and more focused on using their powers to get ahead in the world. These ladies had power and weren't afraid to use it to stay at the top of the food chain. Slight side note here: despite my overall dislike for this mind-numbingly boring and poorly written show, I did love Kathy Bates. What a fucking witch. Her character had absolutely no apologies to make. #freakywitchsex #racist #lovemeansneversayingyouresorry
But lets just leave the world of tv witches for a moment. Lets look at witches in movies. There have been some witches that have cropped up in popular supernatural movies over the past few years - but there are few movies where witches are our featured antagonists (or protagonists!) There was the HILARIOUS Witching and Bitching (2013) - with it's free-spirited, man-eating witches and now we've got The Witch - not only the witch movie I've been waiting for BUT the horror movie I've been waiting for.
If I only had a tweet to describe The Witch I would write, "The Witch is made of nightmares." Next to Possession, this may be one of the most uncomfortable movies I've watched. What a beautiful, slow building of paranoia and terror. The dread creeps up along your spine and clutches your throat for the full 90 minutes of film. The Witch is meticulously crafted; even if you weren't raised in New England under the shadow of witch trails and occult happenings, you'll immediately feel the crushing weight of the Puritanical wrath that plagued and shaped this part of the country. The quiet, muted color palette makes the film feel perpetually cold and desolate - really driving home the sense of isolation the family is feeling. The overall tone of the movie cuts closer to Haxan or Carnival of Souls than to The Exorcist or perhaps Hocus Pocus (if we're really reaching for witch movies here!) It feels only natural to believe The Witch is a documentary, not a work of fiction. Don't let y descriptions of "stillness" and "quiet" fool you - there is no shying away from blood and violence here (as one may have come to expect from a horror movie.) There is a baby skinning scene that made me chuckle - not because it was anything BUT horrifying BUT because it reminds me of (one of my favorite BAD movies) Warlock (where Julian Sans skins an unbaptized child - off screen - in order to cast a flying spell.) The striking dichotomy between the relative camp of Warlock and the chilling ritualistic torture in The Witch is what gives me a case of the school girl giggles.
For any horror aficionado - the real shocker here IS NOT the graphic violence in The Witch, but the fact that a movie as clearly independent (and not conventionally Hollywood formulaic) could get a theatrical run. Fucking shocking.
In a twist RARELY seen in any movie dealing with The Devil, our leading lady turns away from "the light" and her strict, religious upbringing to embrace Evil and become a witch (a servant of Satan) at the end of the movie. And why? Why does she make this choice? I think the answer lives in a number of factors: control, pleasure, and rebellion.
As the child of a devout family, particularly a female child, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is completely subservient to her family - specifically her father. She must, at all costs, obey her family and please them: watch the baby, marry whomever is chosen, pray, do not speak, so on and so forth. If all goes well for her, she will leave her family's home to be controlled by a husband she has not chosen and does not love. It is no wonder that a teenager placed in this position may find another possibility more appealing. And while that other possibility - working for Satan - may carry with it some component of subservience, it certainly carries enough joy to make the work seem worth it. Becoming a witch may well be the first choice Thomasin has EVER made for herself: what a gloriously empowering moment. It's as though The Witch is a rite of passage we've been allowed to sneak a peek at - pulling back the curtain and watching a girl become a woman. That, my friends, is a powerful thing. And I think this intimacy plays a significant role in why The Witch has resonated so well with audiences.
Now, you may think that these pieces alone are enough to make the movie completely terrifying but it's made even more intense and disturbing by a score that pricks as your most tender nerves. A blend of haunting sounds, ethereal music, and impassioned (foreign sounding) chanting - the sounds of The Witch will keep you checking every dark corner of your yard for the weeks following your trip to the theatre. (Which may be even more terrifying for folks who didn't catch it on the big screen and only see it at home. YIKES!)
So - praise be to The Dark Lord for such an intense, terrifying film of female empowerment and existential joy. My two wishes in this world are that you watch The Witch and that you, too are able to find such bliss as Thomasin.
You can watch The Witch trailer here:
Grab a copy of the soundtrack here: