Films: The Witch (2016)

This October, I’ve set the goal to watch a different scary or spooky movie every day. I’m going to skip around from kids’ movies to suspense (though no torture porn. I have my limits). Some on my list of possibilities are movies I’ve seen before, the rest are new to me.

Many thanks to the commentors of Pajiba for recommending some truly excellent choices, and to Benito Cereno’s list of scary movies on Netflix for even more suggestions.

You can find the master post here.

And so, movie number 1 was “The Witch” (2016).

Here there be spoilers.

The story: A Puritan family is banished from their small village in New England for an unspecified offense, and go to live on their own farm on the edge of the woods. At first all seems well, if life is rough on the frontier; and then baby Samuel is stolen from right under his sister’s Thomasine’s nose. The family unravels from grief, hunger, religious fervor, and the ever-present but unseen threats from the woods around them.

I went into this movie thinking it was largely psychological horror, the kind that examines what happens where there too much isolation in a heavily religious atmosphere. And in many ways it is, but then you see the actual fate of Baby Samuel and suddenly it’s a horrible horror story, the kind where the threat isn’t just in the mind.

While the movie is not the most action-packed (“atmospheric” is often another word for “slow-paced”, and this movie is atmospheric as all get-out), the setting, the language (actual-sounding early Modern English!), and the immersion into the Puritan lifestyle made it fascinating. I wish there had been more backstory, about the witch and about the family, but it’s a nice change when filmmakers don’t spoon-feed everything to the audience and we have to fill in the blanks ourselves.

I especially liked the use of color. Everything that the family owns or lives near are different shades of brown and gray, not even a sliver of blue sky, as if the filmmakers were invoking the feeling of a black-and-white movie. And there’s black, of course, black forest, black night, and the black goat Black Philip that figures largely in the plot. And then when the witch (or witches) enter the story, they bring color with them — mostly red, of course, mostly in the form of blood.

So, is it a scary movie? Not really. It’s sad. It’s atmospheric. It presents some interesting theories about the witch hunts, and I really loved the moment when Black Philip is revealed to be not just a goat. That was a plot twist I did not see coming at all.

This note appears at the film’s end: “This film was inspired by fairy tales, folk tales, and court records.” That is …not something you often see.

(Forgive if this is a little disjointed. I blame the cold medicine.)

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