I liked the advertising for The Witch (i’m not going to write “The VVitch”, though i do think that bit of typographical flair is pretty awesome) quite a bit. The posters look rad. The trailer was rad. I was sold. But I didn’t get a chance to see it for a few days after its release. Then I did! (a fascinating autobiographical story, i know) When I went to check showtimes on Fandango, I saw that The Witch had a “fans” rating of 2.2(ish) and a “critics” rating of 84% (and 54%/88% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes). That made me want to see it 10x more! (critics are so fucking rad, right?) I guess I just assumed that I would like it because I’m too gosh-darned rock-n-roll to follow the sheeple giving the film a low rating. Was I right? Well, let’s get into it, shall we? (and before you Google it, yes, you can be rock-n-roll even if you say “shall we”)
A family of super-Christian colonial times folks are banished from their village and church for being too super-Christian. They strike out on their own and things go south pretty quickly when their youngest – a baby – mysteriously disappears. Then crops fail. Traps come up empty. Another kid disappears. And on top of all that, the twins are misbehaving and won’t stop chanting rhyming songs about the creepy black goat they say talks to them. Oh, and there’s a witch that lives in the woods. (at least one)
The Witch is a beautifully shot and deliberately paced horrific family drama period piece. That may sound like I’m being evasive about pinning down a genre, but i’m not. It is a horror film. It’s important to mention that it’s a family drama because so much of the horror is rooted in the relationships among the members of this God-fearing family. (i guess i mention that it’s a period piece because i don’t want you to go into it thinking the witch is going to be sending threatening texts from her iPhone) I’ve seen that there’s been a bit of a debate over whether this is truly horror or not. I’ve talked about what I think makes a horror movie a few times in the past, so I won’t go into that again. But I will say that superb production, character depth, and intelligent writing does not preclude a film from being considered horror. (i guess that puts me in the scrum) The Witch has all three. It’s a film that left me wondering why more wide-release genre films aren’t sophisticated, smart, artistic, slow-build stories. Then I remembered that 2.2 star rating from the “fans” on Fandango. And the modest (though relatively successful) sub-$10mil opening weekend. It’s sad that genre “purists” may dismiss a superbly-crafted film out-of-hand for not meeting some arbitrary standards of “real” horror. This film (and this level of filmmaking/storytelling) deserves to be supported by everyone, ESPECIALLY horror fans. This isn’t “elevating the genre”. On the contrary – horror is rife with examples of great filmmaking and pinnacles of artistic expression from expensive studio films to the straight-to-video, micro-budget work of gorehound auteurs. The Witch is simply a supreme example of what can be done when a horror film is expertly crafted. It may have attracted the attention of non-horror fans, causing the hardcore to bristle with genre-definition-protecting indignation, but that can only lead to good things (bigger investments, higher expectations, etc.) for ALL of us “real” horror fans.
The Final Cut: The Witch is a gorgeous example of expert storytelling that will terrify audiences with its glimpses of the grotesque and gruesome interspersed among the increasingly tragic trials of an accursed family.