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The Witch (and the great horror divide)

tn_witcha.k.a. “The VVitch: A New England Folk Tale,” as it said on the actual movie

Our beliefs on horror movies are very dear and personal to us. We were indoctrinated into them as children, performing rituals both in groups and in private. Though horror fans often think of themselves as one big group, different factions draw from different traditions. Some are strictly isolationist, while many draw from the Italians, or the Japanese, or even the French. Some have an Amish-like devotion to a specific bygone era, for example the Orthodox ’80s Slashists not only refuse to acknowledge the reformations of the SCREAM era, they don’t even believe in Blu-Ray.

There are many dogmas to adhere to or ignore. Some oppose jump scares, others welcome them to the flock. Many exalt franchise horror, but some consider sequeling a sin. Most oppose new remakes, but who doesn’t at least like THE THING? There is a wide spectrum, from those who seek the gore and transgression of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and GUINEA PIG to those who believe the best scares are always left to the imagination (of the viewer, not the filmmaker). In the middle are many who spent a few years fretting about “torture porn” and its hold on the genre. Or PG-13 teen horror. Or studio horror with big name actors. Or whatever.

Since the ’80s, horror has been both a highly specialized world for fangorian aficionados and a go-to market for squeezing quick bucks out of undiscerning young people. Therefore it should be no surprise that movies like THE WITCH that take a mood-heavy, narrative-light arthouse type of approach can be praised to the sky by critics and horror media, then called “the worst movie ever” by normal people who expect something different when they go to a horror movie. That they will get mad at the people who said it was good, and accuse them of thinking they’re stupid, which will then make them think they’re stupid. Lots of finger pointing. We could be moving toward burning and drowning.

I try to be non-denominational or agnostic. In UNIVERSAL SOLDIER terms I love DAY OF RECKONING, but I lean REGENERATION. I skew a little commercial, but I get a good laugh from IMDb bulletin board outrage. They’re angry at the availability of slow burn art horror the way their parents were about porno mags and heavy metal albums with satanic symbols on the covers.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 12.31.18 AM
NOTE FROM VERN: I think he or she means “VVFT”

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 12.30.13 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 12.31.47 AM
That’s the divide in the horror community right now, the one between people who consider a movie like THE WITCH worth their time and the people that get angry at it. There’s even been debate about whether it counts as a horror movie. It’s about a witch killing a baby. Of course it is. How is this even a discussion? Obviously the people who think that should broaden their horizons and get more out of life and art, but also I kinda get where they’re coming from. A big part of the appeal of a horror movie is in your gut. You want to be scared or shocked or thrilled, you want your heart pumping. I’m sure you can get into the right mind space to be terrified by this movie, but I can’t. I enjoyed it intellectually, not viscerally. I admired how well it was made. Then it ended and I turned it off.

I didn’t find it scary like some people, I didn’t find it meaningful like some people, so what does that leave? Just the idea of it being very accurate to the “New England folk tale” beliefs about witches. A gimmick, basically. And if you think that’s all it is it’s easy to wonder why can’t it be kind of fun to watch? A little less ANTICHRIST and a little more DRAG ME TO HELL?

But I wouldn’t be thinking that if the thing scared me, and I think this comes back to our upbringing. Exorcisms, ghosts, devils and witches are more popular than masked killers or mutant cannibals these days, but I just don’t react as strong to horror with a standard religious basis. It shouldn’t matter, because it’s all fiction, even when the ad campaigns claim they’re true stories. But for me, a primal fear like “that guy’s trying to stab me!” is way more potent than “that bullshit that the charlatans convince gullible people to believe in is REALLY HAPPENING!” I think the level of scariness is enhanced for people who have a deep, ingrained belief in ghosts, demons, Hell, or satan worship.

mp_witchTHE WITCH is a little different. This one is not adapted from a specific “true story,” but from old superstitions that were used to persecute and sometimes execute women who didn’t fit in. Writer/director Robert Eggers goes out of his way to be accurate to the beliefs of the period, even supposedly taking dialogue out of journals.

It’s a beautifully crafted movie with excellent performances by the entire cast, especially the young kids. It paints a portrait of a father (Ralph Ineson, Game of Thrones) who stubbornly moves his family out of a settlement due to religious conviction. They live in a cabin on the edge of the woods, and it’s not as easy to get food as they’d like. He has to hide from his wife (Kate Dickie, PROMETHEUS, Game of Thrones) that he’s taking his son Caleb (the excellently named Harvey Scrimshaw) into the woods to learn how to hunt. She thinks the woods are dangerous, and she’s right.

One day oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is playing peekaboo with her baby brother when suddenly he disappears. Most movies would keep it mysterious what happened, this one soon shows a witch (Bathsheba Garnett, P2) caressing and then… doing worse to the poor baby. I have to confess, it looked to me like she was supposed to be jerking off the baby for a second, which I’m against. Luckily, I’m told she was merely churning his guts and turning the fat into magic flying oil. (I guess she’s seen WARLOCK.)

A friend mentioned that she then straight up flies away on a broom, which I did not catch at all. I had to study the Youtube clip to see that that is apparently going on in a shot that I thought was just her walking in slow motion with the moon above. If they had made it clear she was flying away on a broom (especially if they did it with an obvious miniature) I would’ve liked this movie about five times more than I did.

You know what, there is one part that I gotta say I did find scary. It’s basically an EXORCIST type scene with Caleb in bed freaking out and they’re trying to pray the witch out of him, and he goes through a whole thing of being possessed and then being a meek innocent kid again and then up and dying. And that kid is so little and so convincing in all this (and I think maybe it’s one long shot?) so it’s a tour-de-force of a scene that really pulls you in.

Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke gives it a strong look. At first I thought it was one of these movies that has almost no color and why don’t they just have the balls to make it black and white? But I came to appreciate the look, there is some color in there, it’s just very, very light. There’s a beautiful shot of the family’s wagon exiting the settlement, leaving a thriving community (with some Native Americans walking by, even) behind. From that point on they’re isolated.

The story draws off of traditional fears like isolation and nature. These people are old timey, they can rough it better than we can, but do they really have what it takes to survive out there? Do they know what they’re getting into?

There’s also a younger sister and brother (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) who say that their goat, Black Philip, talks to them. Goats are fucking creepy. The idea of these weird little shits having conversations with one is fucking creepy. These are the kinds of scares we get, not many of the big ones. It’s about the slow building of a mood. I have talked to some people who found it incredibly boring. I didn’t.

Huge plot hole: why didn’t Vin Diesel come and solve this problem in like 1 minute.

I’ve stated my objection many times to movies that portray witches as an actual danger in these period pieces, because they’re creating a fantasy that justifies the actual real life scapegoating and murder of random innocent women. It’s sort of like if there was a horror movie about a trans woman who goes into women’s restrooms to assault little girls. We wouldn’t be happy about that, right? It’s fiction, but it’s fiction that perpetuates some bullshit dreamt up by sick assholes who don’t deserve to have their weird fantasies perpetuated.

Well, here we are again.

I guess I misunderstood the beginning, I thought the colony were being judgmental of the family’s Christianity, and the dad was like “fuck this” and that’s why they left, so I really sided with them. But from reading up on it I guess  maybe dad was in trouble for trying to out-Puritan the other Puritans. We definitely side with Thomasin, though, as she stands up against false accusations of witchcraft, by her own family no less. It’s all hysteria and stupidity and adults believing a ridiculous thing said by little kids. Thomasin tries to tell them that they should know better.

But in the reality of the movie the superstitious ninnies were right. All of their backwards beliefs are 100% correct. (SPOILER) Even while testifying to her innocence Thomasin doesn’t know that she kinda is The Witch. She’s gonna kill her whole family and then, like, do some kind of spooky floating witch magic ambiguous ending type shit or whatever. The family really shouldn’t have left the church, they really should’ve stayed out of the woods, there really was a witch there, she really was a danger to their baby, her sexuality really did lure and kill men, and Thomasin really was involved in witchcraft, even without knowing it. In the world of this movie, they should’ve shut the fuck up and done what they were told.

I doubt that message is intentional, and if it is it’s okay for movies to come from different perspectives. But it’s like a very beautiful and artful lecture about how I’m bad because I’m not going to church enough. Good job, but I’m not gonna record it and listen to it when I need a lift.

Earlier I made it sound like THE WITCH is a love it or hate it movie, but I’m actually kind of a moderate on this one. I enjoyed it and I was impressed by its craft, but to me it feels empty. I know many people who love it think it has alot to say, so let me explain myself.

To me alot of the best “serious” horror movies work partly because they have a little truth behind the scares. When we watch A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET we understand why the best intentions of the parents could go too far, leaving a secret shame with unintended consequences. We recognize the feeling of kids having to pay for what their parents did long ago, or parents fearing this happening to their kids. And the idea of knowing something, but no one believes you, so you’re on your own.

When we watch THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or THE HILLS HAVE EYES we recognize that class tension, city vs. rural, the assumptions each side make about the other, and the assumptions they make about the assumptions each others make.

When we watch CANDYMAN… well, read my essay.

In THE WITCH there’s much of this truth in how she’s treated. Their prejudices cause them to use flimsy evidence against her because it fits their crazy world view. She makes a joke and it gets preposterously treated as a confession. Her dad is willing to accept the word of two little kids against hers, even though what they’re saying is patently ridiculous.

So what happens at the end, I mean, it’s cool on the surface, but for me it feels a little hollow because it sort of takes the truth out of the story. It says yeah, actually the misogynistic puritanical world order is correct. Those strange women are churning our babies, seducing our sons, stealing our daughters.

I explained this misgiving to one of my buddies who loved THE WITCH and he had a good interpretation: that yes, what I describe is true, but this is the story of how all that suspicion and unfairness would make a girl want to become a witch. Well, fuck it. What other option do I have now? Let’s steal some babies. A self-fulfilling prophecy. A snake eating its tail.

I like that, but I’m still left with a world where non-conformist women endanger babies. That doesn’t stop this from being a really good movie, but it does keep me from totally loving it.


Recommendation for sequel: VVARLOCK, a remake of WARLOCK with Thomasin in the Julian Sands role of a witch in present day America.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 at 7:25 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

90 Responses to “The Witch (and the great horror divide)”

  1. this is basically exactly how i feel about all this stuff, i loved the witch filmatically, but not philosophically.

    i fucking hate those conjuring movies though, totally uninteresting shitfests IN ADDITION to lionizing the scamming garbage people warrens. its like if there was a scanners type of movie where the protagonist was uri geller :/

  2. I agree with your friend. What I got from the film is that, yes, there absolutely is evil out there. However, instead of coming together to take a stand against said evil, the family accuses, demonizes, and tears each other apart. Fear is a powerful motivator. Thomasin didn’t begin the film as the Witch’s Apprentice, but after being repeatedly admonished by those closest to her, she began to lose all sense of self until the only way out seemed to be to hang out with the fucking Goat and float around naked. Sort of how a lot of preacher’s kids turn into cool long haired metal heads. The kids aren’t the problem. The puritan values of men who would rather look good in front of God and the Joneses are the problem, and it keeps them from being able to see the real fucked up stuff that is happening in the world.

  3. I like slow burn horror movies. Slow burn horror movies are the only ones that scare me. I love movies about big rubber monsters and guys with knives, but those are happy funtimes at the movies. You want to get under my skin, make me wonder what’s in the dark and when it’s going to show itself.

    That said, this movie is a bad slow burn horror movie, and that’s why I don’t like it. Not because it’s slow. Because it’s bad.

    Like Vern, I simply don’t think the story holds water. The whole time you’re supposed to be paranoid about which of the family members is in on the witchery, or if any of them are, we’ve already seen multiple scenes of very real witches doing their thing, often to the members of the family we’re supposed to suspect. Yet then we’re supposed to feel suspense when the parents accuse the kids. It’d be like if we had scenes where we see all the characters in THE THING get thinged. It’s a tension killer. It would be one thing if the parents did some terrible stuff to the kids in the name of piousness and we knew that it wasn’t deserved, but they didn’t. They locked them in a shed for a few hours, then the real witches showed up and made all that crap pointless. I don’t get why anyone thought this was a good strategy.

    So the whole time I’m sitting there, trying to stay positive. There’s some good stuff going on, even if it’s not actually scary or involving. There’s still potential. The baby-mulching reminded me of the disgusting arcane rituals of a Chinese black magic movie, and that’s a vibe I can get down with. So I’m hoping that all this is going somewhere. The score and pacing is really working overtime to build up some dread, so I figure the release of all this tension will make the long slog worth it.

    Nope. A guy gets knocked into a pile of logs. (SPOILER) This is your big climax. Then it turns into HOCUS POCUS. The End.


    Also, I hate to rag on that kid actor because I blame his director for letting him twist in the breeze all alone, but that possessed monologue was terrible. I was so embarrassed for that kid. I had to cover my eyes like I was watching Larry David make an ass out of himself, only he wasn’t doing it on purpose. I’m sorry you got put through that, kid. There’s a reason editing exists, and it’s so no one has to stare point-blank at the cracks in an actor’s technique.

    It’s not the worst overpraised horror movie I’ve seen lately (That would be IT FOLLOWS) but it’s definitely not scary or entertaining, and it sure as hell doesn’t have anything interesting to say, as Vern pointed out. There’s no spectacle and the subtext is a mess. And the goat doesn’t even stand on its hind legs like the trailer implied.

    That’s horror in the 2010s right there: Nothing happens, but everybody whispers so you know it’s deep and there’s a droning sound so you know you should be afraid of it. Let me know when the next trend starts. This one’s an evolutionary dead end.

  4. really, sincerely appreciate your paragraph about trans women in bathrooms there, vern. i out myself in saying so but im sure you can imagine the disorienting rush of confusion when a critic youve invested hours of your time reading, the kind of fella youd send fred williamson dvds to, says something or takes a stance which cuts you out and denies you asylum in their cyberspace. it can retroactively colour their every word in a light which ostracizes a dedicated reader.

    i dont know if youre aware of any trans readership other than me but i know

  5. I liked the movie as a drama about a period that we don’t see much of on-screen, although it didn’t do much for me specifically as a work of horror…

    I do wish it had been picked up by a slightly less-classy distributor, so we could have had an endless series of trashy Black Philip-themed DTVs… The VVitch 2: The Rise of Black Philip is something that needs to happen…

  6. ok, so i cant edit that post. im typing on mobile (a new, unfamiliar phone, to boot) and i hit the submit comment button erroneously.

    i dont know if youre aware of any trans readership other than me but i know you write with sincerity. i mean to say, its unlikely you were even aware im a woman at all. i comment infrequently and my gender identity has not been relevant to a conversation on here until today.
    point is, one of the things i respect about you, vern, is that you would write about it anyway cos its something you believe in. a true embassador for change.

    as far as i can fathom, youre a straight white male. it would be incredibly easy for you to put forth minimal effort towards Black

  7. (cont… again)

    and other POC achievements in entertainment or recognizing racism in this day of today, in our Americas, but you do it. you illustrate awareness of feminist social issues without speaking as an authority on women. sexuality and gender, too.

    its just a paragraph but it cant be overstated what good a few words can do. youd earned and secured a dedicated reader in me years ago but it is your commitment to excellence that strengthens the bond between writer and reader and that betters the world.

    God bless America, Vern. You made my day.

  8. Hey rorolovo, I really appreciate that. It’s something that’s in the headlines that seemed like a good comparison. I think I have also said things over the years that were hurtful to people, and I have learned from those mistakes when people have e-mailed me about them. So if I ever do write something that gives you that disorienting rush of confusion, or if someone else does, it might be worth telling me or them. Some people just get defensive and feel judged but if you do it right it can help them to evolve as people.

    Anyway, thank you.

  9. Couldn’t agree more with this. I had such high hopes for this thing and was super dismayed to discover that it was only ok, especially when many of my peers sang its praises. To me, it just lacked motion- I’m a big boy, I can handle slow movies, but goddamn, the best of these have fighting dogs, nannies hanging themselves, weird old people making the movie take storytelling digressions and shit- this movie had about two minutes of witch and too much time for me to think about Chris Finch. Coming from the Bible Belt, a lot of my friends connected with the idea of insane, religious parents fucking it up for the kids, to which I have since pointed them to The Rapture, a superior slow burn, that is at least a little concerned with entertainment, and also has w story ten times more thought provoking and chilling than the freaking Witch.

  10. I don’t think the puritan values were in the right here.
    When the divine manifested itself in the climax of exorcism it was erotic, freaky and alien and it ended up killing the kid just as surely as the manifestation of evil did. It wasn’t anything like things the puritanical father believed.
    So maybe if Jesus is weird and Satan is weird then those folksy values are wrong and living by them and forcing them on others is just an ego trip? And in this light, maybe it always is and faith-based morality is bullshit?
    That’s my take on it, anyways,

  11. I thought the slow burn was structured all wrong. Starting with a baby getting turned into broom butter is going to make anything else seem tame in comparison. The weird supernatural things like the blood in the goat’s milk should have been the initial signs, and it should have built to the baby getting kidnapped. It also came off silly that the girl would joke about her kidnapped brother. It made her less sympathetic because, god, what a dumb fucking thing to do. Had she made jokes about being a witch before the brother was stolen then I could understand it.

  12. Been waiting forever for this review, sad you didn’t like it that much. D:

    I personally loved it, thought it was absolutely captivating and incredibly tense. The acting was phenomenal and helped sell it immensely. Really, just an incredibly gripping film throughout for me. It was a slow burn that wasn’t afraid to show the monster, which I appreciated a lot.

    We definitely analyzed the story differently though. I agree with kevin swords’s take on it. The idea that the witch’s being real confirming the more conservative views feels like too shallow of an interpretation for me. Just because the witch’s were real (arguably, as the director has pointed out in an interview, that the ruined corn could be infected by a particular type of mold that may cause hallucinations, so it’s meant to be somewhat ambiguous, although I do think they’re real FWIW) doesn’t mean those puritanical views were confirmed. I believe it’s meant to be the opposite. The witches are actually the “good” characters in a way, because by joining them, Thomasin is essentially liberating herself from her families previous beliefs and restrictions.

    You can apply critic Robin Wood’s horror film formula to that interpretation and it checks out pretty well. Really good read if you haven’t yet, regardless: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Normality+is+threatened+by+the+monster%3A+Robin+Wood,+Romero+and…-a0260944330

  13. They mulched a baby. Maybe this is a simplistic interpretation, but in my opinion the good guys don’t do that.

  14. Really good to finally read your thoughts on this one, Vern. When I saw this in the theater, you were actually the first person I thought about because you are the only (or at least the only I can think of) writer I read regularly to express almost the exact same problems I personally have with stories which treat witches as real.

    For me it creates a really weird relationship with this movie. As a movie, I absolutely loved it. I just thought it was amazingly well crafted for any type of film and for a horror film? Wow. But then there’s the witch stuff. Particularly with the daughter since it even sort of addresses the false accusation stuff and then, as you mentioned, goes ahead and makes her a witch anyway.

    It’s somewhat easier if I look at this as being a story that people would have told each other at the time, rather than a modern story of something that happened but it’s still there. And I just think the ending could have been more dramatic if they went in a different direction anyway.

    I did find this one fairly scary when I saw it in the theater. It was a weird, sort of atmospheric fear where I felt more of a dread than a terror (reminded me of reading a scary book vs seeing a scary movie). I don’t think I would have felt that way at all if the first time I saw it was on video though.

    And well, shit. Black Phillip and the twins are creepy as shit and deserve a whole franchise!

  15. A recent Satanic Cult/Witch movie that really pissed me off was REGRESSION with Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson. One of those ”based on a true bullshit story” type deals about a woman who was allegedly raped by her father who was allegedly under the influence of a Satanic cult who allegedly were controlled by evil spirits and allegedly killed babies and who obviously couldn’t think for themselves and be decent people. All this bullshit goes on for two hours only to be told by a disclaimer at the end that everything we just witnessed was most likely bullshit. Stupid people scare me way more than demons and ghosts.

    But I did like the SINISTER films. Part 2 was surprisingly good. And James Ransone, who supported in part 1, here plays a sweaty, off-beat, weirdly likeable hero.

  16. New England endorses this New England horror story. Even it was filmed in Canada.

  17. Thanks for this. I’m a Christian who goes to church every week, reads a bit of the Bible most days and yet (like most of my ilk, if you look at the data) wouldn’t vote for a Trump in a million years… I’ve seen THE VVITCH twice, and most reviews I’ve found apply a kind of facile liberation feminist reading that doesn’t account for the objective, great evil on display here; also, most totally miss the point of the opening scene, which is that the father is “glad” of their banishment. You, on the other hand, paid better attention.

    To me, the film- though no intention of Mr. Eggers -is a warning (as folktales often are) to people of faith that their piety and dedication are not sufficient by themselves, and in fact can help turn family *against* the faith. The most impressive aspect of the movie is its refusal to judge the family by anything but their own beliefs. This isn’t an “everyman” premise, and while I understand that many have trouble identifying with the characters I do not consider that to be a fault of this film, but an indication of just how coddled audiences are (as a genre, horror may be an especially egregious offender in this regard).

    (Also, I’m a native Seattleite and I hope you’re still being good to Scarecrow.)

  18. I can certainly understand the more subjective element as far as not being able to personally get-into or suspend-disbelief-around religiously themed horror. If it doesn’t do it for you, it doesn’t do it for you. On the other hand, I do think that is pretty subjective, and you’d be hard-pressed to make an argument that literal witches or demonic possession or whatever is a less plausible form of wholly unsubstantiated fictional creation than, e.g., literal zombies or literal Frankenstein monsters being created with electricity in the 1900s or a dream ghost literally killing you in your dreams. They’re all pretty fanciful and assume a degree of suspension of disbelief. I can grant that the whole “inspire by a true story” thing is a little grating, but I think most sophisticated viewers instinctively discount such claims and just view the whole “based on a true story” as just a cheesy advertising tactic. So, again, it’s fine if it’s not one’s bag, but I can’t see any rational basis for deciding which supernatural or otherwise implausible thing is more believable.

    I also can understand the concern around how a film might be thought to confirm or support a revisionist-misogynist history (what we in the film biz call re-vish-mis-aw-gyn-ist). And I appreciate the whole standing up for trans people thing, and I support that, too. Having said that, I think the analogy, and the more fundamental intellectual-political objection to the film (“it legitimizes witch-burning” or something in that general vein), fails. There’s no reason to suspect that anyone connected to this film (or the Rob Zombie film) has any such agenda (not saying you’re saying there is), and it’s more of just a what-if, f’d-up premise. You could make similar quasi-political arguments about The Visit being age-ist or Bone Tomahawk legitimizing stereotypes about Natives. It’s just a creepy premise.

    Anyway, I think those reactions are fine as far as if you can’t suspend disbelief or can’t get past a particular set of political implications that the film would have if its premise were true (or if it were implied that it is really true in our world). On the other hand, people can suspend disbelief in all kinds of ridiculous ways all the time, and I don’t think anyone is consciously making a political statement with this film, so that feels like a very personal reaction that is not really grounded in anything other than one’s own political sensibilities or scare-preferences. And I think Vern is owning all of those predilections as such, so good enough :)

  19. Crushinator Jones

    June 14th, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    Vern, I think this is softened a little bit by the fact that they call it out as a Folk Tale. As in, “this is the value system of these New England fuckers, crazy shit right?” Like this is the story that they told their kids to impart values on them.

    Having said that, I really don’t want to see a movie with baby murder. So I’ll skip this one. In fact, I’m going to start a new policy: if your movie features explicit baby murder and mutilation, I’m not interested.

  20. Crushinator, I’d hate to see you make a categorical snap judgment you come to regret. Next thing you know, Nancy Meyers puts out a diverting little baby mulching-themed rom-com with Katherine Heigl and John Corbett, and you find yourself eating crow (or mulched baby). #themoreyouknow

  21. I was moderately entertained. Loved the doomed atmosphere, but like Vern, I can’t get too invested in a witch movie, unless it’s like MARK OF THE DEVIL or WITCHFINDER GENERAL. Or if it’s about space witches. That’s always fair game. This movie did reinforce one of my core beliefs, though: don’t trust a fucking goat.

  22. I guess I’m one of the assholes who really loved this movie. What it does better than every other witch movie I’ve seen is put you in the headspace of these people for whom evil lurked around every corner and religion consumed every moment of their lives. The wilderness the family inhabits isn’t just harsh and inhospitable, it’s virtually post-apocalyptic. Their crops are blighted. The animals have fled. They are starving and sickly. Of course there’s a witch in the woods. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.

    I think front-loading the movie with the baby-mulching is smart (even if it set up expectations for some people that the movie had no intention of delivering on) because it’s telling you up-front what kind of movie this is. This is a movie that wants you to feel the same dread and paranoia these people did, for whom witchcraft and Satan’s influence were facts of life as real as the earth they stood on. It wants to explore how religious extremism can take hold of people and make them do terrible things by making you feel it too. It’s not a movie where we get to look down on these poor religious fanatics descending into paranoia, pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come.

    I’d agree with your friend that the ending paints that kind of religion-fuelled paranoia as a self-fulfilling prophecy that victimizes, bullies and shames young women to the point where embracing “evil” is their only option.

  23. There is exactly, by my count, one jump scare in the entire movie, and it totally knocked me on my ass for one reason: this movie, from frame one, is absolutely dripping with dread. You know from the get-go that things are not going to end well for this family. Sure, you know that coz it’s a horror movie, but I went into it without having even seen a trailer for it and just the opening scene with the trial and the family being banished I thought “Yeah, this guy’s gonna get punished for his hubris and it’s gonna take his whole family down with him.”. I dunno, I walked outta this movie into the daylight of Austin and just had to sit down for a minute. Maybe it was the big screen but I thought the filmatism was on point here. The dialogue, the cinematography, all the actors (even [especially] the kids) were great. In short, I loved it, and I hope I only ever watch it on the big screen. And yeah, it’s definitely a horror movie. It’s not what we’re used to these days, but I can appreciate it for what it is: a dark fable, like the OG Grimm Fairy Tales. It says a lot about the way we were (and are still, in many ways) without putting an exclamation point on it.

  24. Vern, I hate to break it to you but there really is and was such a thing as witches and witchcraft, it doesn’t mean they had supernatural powers or killed babies, but you seem to be under the impression a witch is like a werewolf or a vampire, a total myth.

  25. Griff, I hate to break it to you but there were also such things as vampires and werewolves, it’s just that they weren’t evil creatures with supernatural powers, but humans with medical conditions like porphyria and hypertrichosis that were unknown at the time.

  26. Griff, witchcraft in 17th century and before was basically just pre-Christian European religious practices that survived past the continent’s turn towards Christianity. We still use some of these traditions today (the emphasis on eggs during Easter and the Christmas tree are non-Christian traditions).

    People who were thought of as witches were really just practicing a different religion, at least in Europe. In the early colonies it was mostly just paranoia. During the Salem trials, the accusations might have started because Tituba, a slave, may have been teaching some of the young girls her religious rituals. (For a long time Tituba was commonly thought of as a black slave from Barbados, but I just learned last year that according to descriptions of her it’s more likely she was a Native American slave from the Caribbean .) Otherwise, no one was practicing pagan religions in the American colonies in the 17th century.

    One of my favorite theories about the cause of the Salem Witch Trials is that the colonists were so worried about Native American attacks that they clung to rigid ideas of group cohesion, so anyone who was seen as unusual could potentially threaten the survival of the colony. Also, apparently many of the people in Salem came down from Maine, which was one front in King William’s War between the English, French, and various Native American tribes. Some people had seen their entire family wiped out, and historians have suggested that the trauma of this war may have also had an impact on the witch craze of the late 17th century.

  27. I’ve gone on record before saying I loved this one and I stick by it. For me it worked in all the ways that I think it was supposed to. What’s interesting is that it wasn’t until the last five minutes that the movie fully won me over. My interpretation of the ending is similar to Vern’s friend and a few others’ but slightly different – I didn’t personally take any of the supernatural stuff in the film literally so for me the ending represented Thomasin’s tragic belief that if she is unlike her puritanical kin, is filled with feelings of burgeoning independence and womanhood and craves material things then she must actually be something evil because what other options does she have? After what she went through it’s no wonder that she appears so exultant to be shot of it at the end. And I liked how (for me anyway) I couldn’t share in her catharsis because I didn’t see it as a liberation, just a changing of hands between equally fucked masters. Even if the supernatural shit is taken literally I think that interpretation still holds. So for me it was more about how fears and prejudices can end up creating the very things that people are fearful and prejudiced of in the first place (which can sometimes be a good thing but in this case wasn’t).

    Not saying it’s deep, not saying it’s perfect, not saying that I don’t completely understand why it not only didn’t work for some people but that they outright fucking hated it, but I got a lot out of it and enjoyed it just as much if not more than I thought I would so, yeah. That’s a win for me in my book.

    It does piss me off though that so much of the negativity directed at this movie, or any movie really, seems so entrenched in absolutes. Motherfuckers seem so convinced that theirs is a position of authority and it’s just grinding me down at the moment like I’m a baby fit for a broomstick. “This is not a horror movie”, “This is not entertaining”. Or, as I heard from my housemates tonight after they watched ALIENS for the first time, “That wasn’t exciting *or* scary.” Don’t I get a say in any of this? Sorry that you didn’t like THE WITCH (or insert other movie here). Do you mind if I like it and think it worked for all the reasons that you think it didn’t? I just find it so fucking weird that anyone would tell someone else that a visceral response they might have to a film (or any work of art) is incorrect. I fell asleep during SINISTER about five times and thought it was laughable and boring, other people were terrified by it though. I don’t think they were wrong for feeling that way, and I don’t think I was wrong for wanting to never watch a movie by that filmmaking team ever again. I dunno, I guess I just feel like there’s a weird element of shaming to it, like pissing on someone for laughing at something that you thought was the least funny thing on earth. I’m always jealous of the guys who are laughing because at least they’re having fun.

    Sorry for the rant, that was both longer and shorter than I wanted it to be.

    Also I *really* didn’t like THE BABADOOK (which is my personal pick for worst overpraised horror film in recent memory).

  28. I agree with Mixalot — I think the point is not that the end is any kind of liberation for Tomasin, it’s just the only place left for her to go. The paranoia and brittle manichean worldview of the family turns them on each other, and tears them apart, and eventually even though she never really desired to, she ends up turning into an even bigger bad guy.

    If I may say so, I interpreted this as a parallel to the way radical terrorists –religious or otherwise– recruit young kids from failing families and failing cultures which offer them no hope and no future. I think the fact that the screenplay is so rigidly constructed to accurately convey the ulta-Puritan worldview reinforces that; obviously there are no witches in real life, but there really *are* bad people out there in the world, bad ideologies that want to hurt us. And we let them do it when we use those fears as an excuse to ignore our better nature and turn on each other.

    (That having been said, I think the VVitch is probably my least favorite recent arthouse horror darling. It’s a pretty gripping watch, and well made, but even though i think the subtext is interesting it feels a little dry. And that’s coming from a guy who openly admits to loving BABADOOK, IT FOLLOW, and THE CANAL. All of those feel like they have a little bit more real oomph to them; VVitch is more low-key family drama, and its little twinges of horror are such hoary old stock types that it’s hard to get too jazzed about them. But whatever, I was glad to have seen it. Seems weird it really took off and became a hit, even expanding to mainstream theaters, though. I guess I really will never understand America)

  29. I’ll always believe in supernatural forces. This universe is too vast and weird and I’ve seen enough with my own eyes to be on that “WHOA!” tip more than I’d like to admit. Vampires and werewolves though? man that’s just bullshit.

  30. The tirade I went on in my last comment and I feel weird and gross about it. Sorry everyone. I hope that what I was trying to convey sort of made sense even through I phrased it really poorly and petulantly.

  31. The reason horror can thrive is because of the sole reason that some things we can not explain. AT least not yet. I like to think that some stuff is beyond science. And stuff that we expereince being beyond science and reason is always interesting.

  32. Also using horror as allegory can be useful. I´ve been trying to write my own horror short story in which I try to express my own persnal problems through it.

  33. Mixalot, I think your tirade was good, useful, and sensible. I think there is definitely a tendency to not only disagree with someone but just piss on them or shame them: “if you like that, then your perspective on film is just wrong or non-credible or uninteresting” kind of thing. There are also times where I suppose we can all get caught up in arguing about this stuff, and maybe it’s no so much shaming as vocally expressing incredulity. Like, that’s how I am with the Star Wars prequels (and how some others are with Episode VII); you’re just kind of in awe and having a Mugatu “crazy pills” moment where you really are kind of incredulous at how someone could enjoy or find merit in the film. I’ve had times where I’ve been on the incredulous side of that.

    A tricky thing in here, which I’ve commented on before somewhere in one of these threads, is the distinction or intersection between something you own as subjective (“not for everyone, but I dug it, because of x, y, z”) vs. something more approaching objective. AFI and Sight and Sound and the Oscars and stuff are all about saying things like “this is an objectively [good, beautiful, “important,” etc.] work of art.” I, too, believe there is something like objective merit: that it’s not, like, just your opinion man. But I can’t always separate the two or clearly defend the distinction. Anyway, the relevance is that in these arguments we may find ourselves not clearly distinguishing or being able to distinguish cases where one is just owning that he/she has a different subjective reaction vs. cases when it’s like, “no, I really think you need to check your head, bro. there’s very little redeeming about that shit other than a possible future MST3K installment.”

  34. Greetings from ATL airport. I can’t type on this damn cellular telephone, but I’m enjoying the comments especially from people who loved the movie. Good explanations. Keep it up.

  35. I didn’t like this but I don’t dispute it’s right to exist. I did find it kinda funny when all the critics who loved it a Sundance and Fantastic Fest were shocked, SHOCKED that the general public didn’t take to it. Really? You thought the Blumhouse crowd would go for this? A historically accurate portrayal of pioneer New England farmers?

    If it worked for you, great, but this one’s for you and that’s okay. The pundits who lamented that the public rejection of The Witch meant we can’t have nice things missed the point. It means we CAN have nice things. A24 figured out how to get the public to pay for an art film, so that the more inclined can enjoy it and it didn’t lose anyone money. Not everything is meant to be liked by everyone, and in fact it’s better that way.

  36. Skani – If I had to bet on what movies are “objectively” good, I would say “tonally rich ones with intuitive filmatism” – those who engage people viscerally, not only intellectually (you know, Spielberg movies). They work some neuro-cognitivistic-jungian truths about human nature and human nature is the slowest changing universally shared thing we have. So the closest thing to constant.
    But liking and disliking movies because of personal reasons is human as well and dwelling on that is patronizing and holier-than-thou-ish. So it’s complicated. Maybe the best way is just to respect other people’s opinion and try not to be an asshole about it?
    I don’t get how I figured I had an original thought here :).

  37. Can I just throw this out there real quick?
    What’s the difference between how some are reacting to the gender subtext to this movie, and Django Unchained?
    I’m biracial and have never been comfortable discussing Django with anyone, but so many people enjoy it that I’ve had to seriously reconsider my position on it to see what I overlooked or looked too deeply at.
    So why is that movie pure entertainment but this movie makes certain viewers uncomfortable about the time period or what it’s saying about gender and stuff? I liked The Witch as an atmospheric, psychological horror movie, but the isolated tone of the movie sort of made me see it as existing in its own parallel world or whatever (I’m now seeing it way differently thanks to everyone and Vern, which isn’t a bad thing).
    Just curious is all. Just seems like the uncomfortable reaction Vern and everyone has to The Witch is what I felt during Django.

  38. Also when I said parallel world, I meant that I sort of thought the movie was going for like, a world where witches really were a real thing and it was proven and whatnot. I didn’t put it into the context of feeding certain misogynistic views until reading the review and everyone’s discussions (again, not a bad thing).
    I haven’t done any real research, but I felt like the director just wanted to do a solid horror monster movie but didn’t want to do something played out like vampires or werewolves so he just threw a dart and said “witch. I can do that.” But I agree that it definitely had the unintentional effect of bringing into question what kind of message he was trying to send with the script. With the subject matter, the only way to avoid that unintentional backlash would’ve been to not make the movie at all. Tarantino didn’t do that with Django, so I can sorta see why someone with directing and writing chops would be willing to take that risk.

  39. Can you please explain what correlation you see between the two films? THE VVITCH is taking the unsubstantiated prejudices and fears of the patriarchy and presenting then as real threats. DJANGO UNCHAINED does not do that at all. It presents the dominant class as racist and corrupt and sadistic as it really was, then offers an escapist fantasy solution to it. If DU had been about a bestial slave who lived to bespoil white women with his monstrous member, as all black men were (and still are in some circles) feared to be, then it would be swimming in the same pool that THE VVITCH has its toe noncommittally dipped in. As the two movies stand, however, I don’t see how they could be more different.

  40. I was only curious about general audience reaction. I was uncomfortable and distressed during Django, but everyone else really enjoyed it and made me question some things. After talking with other film geeks, I just noticed the opposite reaction with The Witch. I’m not trying to ignore the atrocities of the witch trials or compare tragedies, there were just some views on the movie that didn’t occur to me when I was watching it.
    I’m sure ultimately it just comes down to subjectivity about what makes us uncomfortable. I know bringing up Django seemed random as fuck and I wasn’t looking for an excuse to bring it up, it was just what occurred to me.
    Sorry everyone. Back to The Witch.

  41. Fred — but the public DID kind of take to it! I saw the previews at my local art theater, but by the time it opened, it was playing in mainstream theaters right alongside DEADPOOL! It made 25,000,000 nationally, and almost 40,000,000 worldwide! That beats WHISKY TANGO FOXTROT, and comes within striking distance of ZOOLANDER 2 and GODS OF EGYPT. I mean, that’s RIDICULOUS money for something this weird and arty, absolutely clobbering IT FOLLOWS (20,000,000) and BABADOOK (6,000,000). Frankly, the weirdest thing here is not that it didn’t top the box office, but that it got to the box office at all.

  42. Tom: That makes more sense. Both movies delve into some really uncomfortable history that still has bearing on the modern day, while still being movies that are supposed to be fun to watch with an audience.

  43. “THE VVITCH is taking the unsubstantiated prejudices and fears of the patriarchy and presenting then as real threats.”

    Right, but it is doing that in the context of the film as a means of telling a creepy story. It’s presenting them as real threats in a fictional world, not as real historical threats in our real historical world. Friday the 13th presents unsubstantiated prejudices about drugs and premarital sex and presents them as real threats or risks. Many horror films are rooted in unsubstantiated fears and fundamentally implausible (or at least supernatural) premises.

    I can definitely see how someone would be offended if a someone made a horror film about how Jewish concentration camp denizens were actually evil Martian colonists, but that would be a major historical genocide affecting millions of people being given on-the-nose offensive revisionist treatment. In the case of the Salem witch trials, we’re talking about 20 to 200 people, and there’s no implication in this film that women as a “race” of people are just evil. And ideas around witchcraft have an inherently creepy, supernatural element to them. So, I just think this is disanalogous to other examples one could cite of a movie promoting or covertly rationalizing some sort of “ism.” A person can see that as a possible implication and have problems with it, but I think another person can see that as an instance of really reaching for and reifying one possible subtext or implication among many other competing interpretations.

  44. KaeptnKrautsalat

    June 17th, 2016 at 1:20 am

    “Friday the 13th presents unsubstantiated prejudices about drugs and premarital sex and presents them as real threats or risks.”

    No, it doesn’t. Those films are not morality tales about the dangers of premarital sex, that is just (vaguely) the villain’s motivation. Mostly it’s not even that, it’s just that the victims need something to do besides getting murdered.

  45. That’s a good point, Mr. Subtlety. How much was it supposed to make? And why does it matter to the fans or critics? They don’t get a cut. All they need is to have the movie exist.

  46. Claiming that any FRIDAY THE 13TH movie is ABOUT anything is kind of a stretch. Characters fuck so there can be nudity, and they die so there can be gore. That’s the entirety of the thought that went into the subtext.

    Besides, plenty of people get killed who don’t partake in a single drug or sexual activity in those movies. Jason kills people because they’re there, not because they’re fucking.

    I don’t really give that much of a shit about THE VVITCH’s “problematic” approach, though. Horror doesn’t need to be sensitive or correct. Any fear that exists, no matter how asinine, is fair game. I dislike the movie on its artistic merits, not its thematic ones.

  47. Tom — It’s interesting to compare DJANGO UNCHAINED to THE VVITCH, because it seems to me they have the opposite problem: DJANGO is taking a real-world problem and giving it somewhat of a glib, ahistorical fantasy treatment, and VVITCH it taking an imaginary problem (witches) which DID cause real-life harm, and giving it a serious, historical treatment. DJANGO is probably the more tasteless, but arguably VVITCH has the worse message, if you take its depiction of real witches literally. Both depict terrible crimes in America’s past (witch hunting and slavery), but one (appears to) tacitly approve of those crimes and the other cartoonishly condemns them. So it makes sense to me that people would react different to them.

    Skani — we’re not just talking about 20-200 people. There are still multiple countries today where witchcraft laws are enforced. The linked article has a few examples, and remember, even in countries which don’t have laws, people are still vulnerable. In the last few years, there have been mob attacks on suspected “witches” in Nepal, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda. So it continues to be a problem in the world.

    I like THE VVITCH and consider its use of witchcraft to be a metaphor for the way paranoia breaks down societies, but I can definitely see why some people would find this a very problematic fantasy, which validates some terrible behavior.

    When Governments Go After Witches

    In some parts of the world, being suspected of sorcery can result in harsh sentences.

  48. Grimgrinningchris

    June 17th, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    I didn’t catch it the first time either, but just went back and yes, there is no doubt, vvitchiepoo gets on a broom and flies.

  49. Mr. Majesyk: Gotta reply to you about those Jason movies. I read a very intellectual book once (and cannot for the life of me remember the name) but it was about how most of the early 80s slashers are very much a reaction to Viet Nam. The F13 series is the most obvious. A group of young people go off into the woods to die at the hands of a masked killer, who he himself is the victim of a crime that had nothing to do with them. Jason’s chief weapon? A machete. Possibly unintentionally, but is the case with a lot of b-movies that are seeming not about anything: due to the id if their creator, they somehow turn out to be about paranoias and unspoken truths about the time they were written.

    Anyway onto the Vitch…spoilers if you care….

    I liked this one. Kind of like Vern, I fall into the “it was alright” category rather than a love or a hate. I totally thought Vern’s friend’s interpretation was what it was. In fact, shows the somewhat seductive power of Satan (or the VVarlock or the ghost or whatever…) when the goat replies to her with its calm, snake oil salesman whisper after all is said and done…

    I thought overall, after a really slow burn, once it got going it was kind of THE THING mixed with a more SHINING type movie set in a TURIN HORSE setting. During the Exorcism/death of the boy, I kind of thought the VVitch or Satan or whatever was kind of jumping around, person to person, increasing the mistrust and overall murderous intensity. Itvseemed to be mostly the two creepy twins and the Mom. The one it never jumped into was the lead girl…till the end of course.

    SHINING cause of an overall isolation and “is this real or are they just loosing their minds” vibe prevalent in most of the third act. Similar symmetrical non-creepy creepyness as well. The dad doesn’t quite loose his shit as much though.

    The one thing that really impressed me was how creepy they made the rabbit in the beginning. Anyone can make a sinister looking goat look creepy. But that rabbit with its beady eyes just watching and waiting…good stuff!

    All in all, REALLY slow. Yes, too slow. But some genuinely creepy moments and something to talk about after.

    As for the sympathy towards those burned as witches back in the days when we said “thee” and “thou”, put me in the polically incorrect camp that just doesn’t care. Yes, it was an aweful incident in American History, but there is so much rich and weird imagery associated with this folklore to not give it a wild and creepy go around once in awhile is really doing a disservice to the horror genre, and perhaps literacy in general. Some 14 year old goth kid might get a kick out of this movie, or the Rob Zombie one or whatever, and check a book out of the library with some of those creepy old illustrations that inspired this stuff, and you got it…learn a thing or two while he’s at it!

    Might make an interesting double bill with HOCUS POCUS.

  50. Majestyk, that’s a fair point.

    Subtlety, I did not know that about witches. Thanks for the information.

    I understand if someone sees disturbing patriarchal gender politics as one possible subtext or implication of a film like this, and I welcome the conversation.

    That said, I was not being glib in referencing Bone Tomahawk: With one exception, the film portrays Native Americans in what is arguably the most horribly caricatured, bucket-of-stereotypes fashion imaginable. The reason I personally do not find it offensive is that I do not think the film is trying to make a racist political statement about Native Americans, it is merely trying to use some of our fears and stereotypes and cultural archetypes as a premise and context for creeping you the hell out. Is it possible to read it as a racist, victim-blaming piece of revisionist history that legitimizes our actions toward the Natives? Yes. Is that a charitable interpretation, or is there any other evidence to suggest that the filmmaker is endorsing such a few? No.

  51. *”few” –> “view”

  52. I understand the comparison, but I actually think BONE TOMAHAWK cleverly avoids the usual problem of bad guy Natives in westerns by creating this fictional lost race of Troglodytes. Not only are they not the same race as the real life Natives, but it’s implied that some of the stereotypes about Natives come from them, due to white people being too stupid to tell the difference.

  53. Will have to check that out again. Don’t think that aspect landed with me, though there was the initial part at the saloon where the local Native was set up as a clear contrast to the baddies.

  54. ‘Like but didn’t love’ here as well, but I’m thought it was interesting enough that I was very much looking forward to the Vernian review-and-comments.


    What I like best about this movie is the insane tonal shift at the end. It’s like shit Thomasin, why didn’t you do this way sooner? After an entire movie of drab colors and humorless people scowling at their miserable existence as it unravels, we realize she had this suave-voiced demon ready to take her into this luxuriant realm. Of COURSE she has to join up, team witch clearly has shit figured out way better than what she’s been dealing with.

    But if you’re the sort who needs movies to cohere into a thematically sensible whole, you can’t enjoy this thoroughly since these people are also eating babies and all that. But if you enjoy the baby eating scene on its own merits as a really creepy effect, and the coda/epilogue on different merits, you may find they both had something to offer.

  55. Don’t know if any of y’all have heard of a movie called DEMON which is currently available to watch on Stan here in AUS and is I think set to be released early September in the US. Not sure about other territories. Anyway, it’d been on my radar for a while, finally got around to watching it tonight. I fucking loved this thing.

    I thought THE WITCH was great but DEMON grinds that movie into fucking broom paste. I think even those of you who hated THE WITCH should give DEMON a shot as, in my opinion, it completely nails the atmosphere, tone and mounting sense of unease that THE WITCH aimed for but was not entirely successful at (or not successful at all at depending on who you ask) while also sidestepping the issues that detractors of THE WITCH had with it / films like it.

    Still need to process it but right now I can’t think of a better film I’ve seen this year. If you’re into slow burning, creepy, impeccably crafted horror movies with folkloric overtones then you should definitely give it a shot.

  56. “Slow burn” implies a fuse of some kind. Does the dynamite ever go off or is it another horror movie where the fuse just fizzles out at the end and we’re all supposed to admire the director’s restraint?

  57. Majestyk, I’m curious/forget where you came down on House of the Devil or the Innkeepers. Both of them have been fairly characterized as slow-burn, and they seem to polarize people, but both of them do build to some kind of last act crescendo and resolution (albeit with the standard, wink-wink walk-it-back type coda a la Nightmare 1 or Friday 2).

    I think there is a kind of backlash against slow-burn, where some people use the word slow-burn to excuse crappy movies for crappy pacing, but I think slow burn is an actual thing that can be done right and make for a good movie, and West’s work in these two would be an example of this (for me).

  58. I like both of those movies. More so THE INNKEEPERS. I think the dynamite goes off in those. THE VVITCH, not so much. You can practically feel the director standing over the fuse with a pail of water just in case anybody watching the movie starts getting the impression that he’s there to entertain them. As I said in my first comment, slow burn movies can work on me if they go somewhere. If this DEMON movie Mix-A-Lot is recommending has another one of those “Ha ha, you expected resolution but I’m SUBVERTING that by being boring on purpose” hipster slam-cut-to-black non-endings, I’m not gonna waste my time.

  59. Yeah, that’s fair. I agree that there is a line somewhere between challenging the audience’s patience and attention span vs. just showing contempt for the modal viewer. On the other hand, I kind of dug ONLY GOD FORGIVES and THE MASTER and TREE OF LIFE, and many people find the pacing and/or ambiguity and/or endings of those films (or the combination of two or more) to be generally infuriating and a cheat. In those cases, I tend to just chalk that up to “not your cup of tea,” because those are deliberate choices about the kind of film one wants to make and the kind of sensations and feelings one wants to evoke.

  60. Majestyk – I guess it all comes down to expectations. I personally can’t stand variations of the “cut to black then gunshot ending” or the “cut to black non-ending” as you called it, but I don’t think that a movie that ends ambiguously or without a clean resolution are by definition some sort of film-school snobbery. Also I don’t agree that “slow burn” necessarily implies some kind of fuse, just a gradual build up. Others may disagree. I considered suggesting that you steer clear of it based on the opinions you’ve voiced in the past, but that seemed kind of like an asshole move to me. I’d like to think that you’d get something out of it if you watched it and at the very least I don’t think it would irk you as much as THE WITCH did.

    Also I was not at all into THE INNKEEPERS or HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. Those movies annoy and irritate me as much as I assume movies like THE WITCH annoy and irritate others. On paper I should love Ti West but I just find his stuff hollow, vapid, dull, the opposite of frightening and the climaxes to his films completely and utterly laughable (again, very much as others have described THE WITCH).

    Just a heads up too – the trailers for DEMON are very misleading. It’s more like a cross between the first half of MELANCHOLIA/FESTEN with some elements of films by directors like Wojciech Smarzowski and Andrzej Żuławski thrown in than a Polish exorcism movie. Tonally it feels like ENEMY, just deeply unsettling and strange but it also has an absurd sense of humour. I just thought it was a super interesting movie and I wasn’t sure if that many people had heard of it.

  61. “I don’t think that a movie that ends ambiguously or without a clean resolution are by definition some sort of film-school snobbery.”

    I never said that. An ambiguous ending is not necessarily a non-ending. What’s important is not that everything gets neatly tied up, but that you, the viewer, feel that a worthwhile conclusion has been arrived at, even if you can’t exactly explain what it means or why. Ambiguity can be satisfying if it sparks intrigue, but it can also just be frustrating if it doesn’t leave the mind enough to chew on.

    This is highly subjective, of course. I thought the ending of INNKEEPERS was haunting and tragic and retroactively cast a fatalist pall over the proceeding 90 minutes, which had seemed fairly affable and low-stakes in the moment. Many thought it was a long road to nowhere. On the same note, many found layers of meaning and subtext in the (arguably) ambiguous endings of THE VVITCH and IT FOLLOWS. I thought they were cop-outs from filmmakers who used ambiguity as a smokescreen to cover up their weak grasp on their material.

    “Also I don’t agree that “slow burn” necessarily implies some kind of fuse, just a gradual build up.”

    But a build-up to what? We agree that “slow burn” implies a deliberately paced progression of sorts, but there must be somewhere to progress to, no? You can’t just build and build and then stop. Slow burn movies gain their effect from denying catharsis as long as possible, but some take it that extra mile by denying catharsis altogether. I’m against that, but again, it’s subjective. I doubt many filmmakers (possibly that Haneke cock) intentionally leave their audiences hanging. It’s just that their idea of what constitutes a satisfying conclusion (perhaps because they are too close to the material and see connections that are not actualized onscreen) differs from mine.

    So I guess what I’m asking is: Do YOU feel that DEMON adds up to something? Because your claim that slow burn movies don’t ever actually have to ignite makes me wonder.

  62. Majestyk – I definitely felt that DEMON added up to something substantial and powerful but, and like you said all of this is subjective, I stand by my claim that slow burn movies don’t need to ignite to be “successful” using the particular rubric that I use to gauge a movie’s success. I wouldn’t have come on here and wasted everybody’s time recommending it if I didn’t personally think that it added up to something. But others may watch it and think that a) it was a no-burn sort of affair and b) it didn’t add up to shit. If that’s the case, and they watched it after hearing about it on here, I’m sorry. I’d still say give THE BOY (2015) a shot as not only is it a great movie in its own right but (SPOILERS) it also ignites into a literal fire at the end.

  63. I guess what I should have just said from the start is that DEMON shares a similar tone to THE WITCH, but I think captures and contains it more successfully, while also having a much firmer grip on and command over its themes and subtext. Strength of its ignition game subject to debate based on personal taste and preference.

    Sorry for hijacking this long dormant thread, guys.

  64. Nonsense. This is good stuff, Mixalot. :)

  65. Skani – thanks man, appreciate it. Wasn’t sure if I was just just jamming up the jibber jabber feed, people seeing this shit keep popping up thinking “THE WITCH? Motherfucker I thought that mess was behind us.”

    Oh! One quick thing though. This movie was the first instance of CGI blood completely and totally fooling me. I would have put money on it being the real deal (the scene in question is where Caleb is “bled” and the blood leaks out and pools in a basin. Heard that it was CGI on the commentary track and my jaw dropped).

  66. That’s cool, Mix-A-Lot. I’ll check it out. A movie that does what THE VVITCH does better than THE VVITCH does it sounds worth my time.

  67. Makestyk – Haha uh so I hadn’t read any reviews until after seeing DEMON but it turns out that they all almost exclusively say the same thing: “Great movie for 80 minutes, shame about the last ten minutes when it turns into an abstract art film with no fucking ending.” So, you know. Proceed with extreme caution.

  68. What kind of abstract art film? The kind where where there’s no soundtrack and people pause for ten seconds between every line or the kind with a psychedelic freakout that wants to murder your synapses with light and sound?

    I missed that you recommended THE BOY. That complicates things, because I thought that was exceedingly mediocre. It was competently made I guess but I figured it out in the first ten minutes, and the movie has nothing else to offer except its twist. Knowing the truth makes the titular boy not even the slightest bit creepy, so I just sat around waiting for the movie to catch up with me. Not a movie I’ll ever watch again.

  69. I think the derisive reviews of it turning into an “abstract art film” (reviewers’ words, not mine), were complaining more about the lack of formal structure in the final section compared to the earlier portions of the film (a complaint I do not agree with). I think that the closing 10 minutes are fantastic and are totally supported thematically and conceptually by the preceding material but it is neither as impenetrable as your first option or as stylistically robust as your second. It just becomes noticeably unmoored and enigmatic I guess. Intentionally so, I think.

    Also I just want to make sure we’re talking about the same THE BOY here. I’m not talking about the one with the surrogate doll-child circa 1988’s PIN with the weird old couple and the guy from a movie I hated called THE CANAL in it. I’m talking about the one with a boy and his dad living a lonely existence at a floundering mountaintop motel and the child is a burgeoning serial killer and the dad is a fuck-up divorcee and it is a very sad and creepy and rewarding experience. I’m only asking because there is no twist to speak of in THE BOY that I recommended (2015 edition) so I was just wondering if our lines maybe got crossed a little by the identical titles.

    If we are talking about the same THE BOY (original recipe Flav) then I liked it a whole lot more than you did. If we are talking about the weak ass but competently made Lakeshore joint THE BOY (new recipe) then I am on exactly the same page. Guessed the twist almost immediately. Got a few loose kicks out of it. Will never watch it again.

    But if we are talking about two different movies I honestly think my original recommendation might be something you should check out. Based on what we’ve established in our discussions, it is definitely a joint that brings a fuse to a slow burn and does not put it out once its lit. And it has a hell of a closing line too to sweeten the deal.

  70. Yeah, I was talking about the one with the doll. I didn’t know there was another one. That makes a lot more sense, because I can’t imagine anyone thinking the doll BOY was a great movie. This other one sounds cool, though. I’ll check it out.

  71. Still haven’t seen VVITCH, rented it from the library and the disc was damaged so will have to try and give it another go. Was going to second the recommendation for THE BOY but then Majestyk and Mix sorted out that it was a different BOY than what I’m thinking of and I was going to recommend it but apparently I’m in a minority (here at least) in liking the doll version of THE BOY. So with this semi-spam post over I will let you carry on and will give DEMON a shot.

  72. It wasn’t the worst. It had an actual climax, kind of rare for a horror movie these days. I didn’t hate it.

  73. Wow, I watched THE LIGHTHOUSE today and in doing so found my limit with regard to A24 horror. I did not hate it. There were good qualities and interesting elements. Dafoe is an unbridled genius and a joy to behold, as he always is. Pattison does just fine. Beautifully shot, atmospheric, ominous, elemental. Coursing with menace, foreboding, and subtle hints of Lovecraftian potential. Good ratcheting up of tension in the first act, and a lot of potential to break out into a ripping good yarn.

    And then it just slows down and starts flagging at the halfway point, limping and then crawling to a “huh?” of a last act and finale that does little to mine, build out, or deliver on its on its “unreliable narrator descends into madness” premise. It’s all premise, mega-acting, and imagery, which is not nothing, but neither is it enough to lift this thing beyond its a arthouse pretensions. I got straight up bored at the mid-way point, and though I stuck it out til the bloody end, it never recovered from that point. It just degenerated into a purgatorial loop of drunken arguments and intermittent intriguing images that go nowhere.

  74. In getting this way with the company who did Mandy.

  75. Which movies? I dug MANDY. Am curious to see BLISS and COLOR OUT OF SPACE (not sure and too lazy to check) if either comes from same company. I use “A24” as shorthand for “slow-burn self-consciously arty/auteur horror,” so, I don’t necessarily mean strictly speaking A24-the-company (but usually amounts to same thing in practice).

  76. As for LIGHTHOUSE, I still want to believe there’s some key plot point or interpretive key that can unlock things and blow my mind and tie it altogether so that it doesn’t just seem like a really good VANITY FAIR cover shoot stretched over 2 incredibly meandering, point less, and self-indulgent hours of film stock. But I haven’t found/heard that key yet.

  77. I saw Daniel Isn’t Real and that movie did not need to take place in the Mandy-verse.

  78. But ye like me lobster, don’t ye?

  79. Bahahaha! Dafoe is a national treasure!

  80. I have not seen LIGHTHOUSE but feel this is the best place to warn people that I saw Gretel & Hansel and they’re now peddling this A24-core shit to our children. Children, people!

  81. I’m not falling for it this time. The trailer looked promising but it also set off my TCBSVVS (This Could Be Some VVitch Shit) detectors, so I did my research. All respect to the Perkins name but this Osgood fellow is clearly not on my wavelength. He’s one of those directors where even his positive reviews assure me that I should stay far, far away.

  82. I can confirm that you would hate his Pretty Thing movie. It may be the most dreadfully boring movie I’ve ever seen.

    I also think the guy who did the new Grudge is overrated to because I also though Eyes of My Mother was insanely boring.

  83. I can confirm to you guys that whatever COLOR OUT OF SPACE IS, it’s not one of those “post-horror” spooky dramas where nothing happens. It is atmospheric and insinuating for a while but it definitely gets to some whammy. Plus all the Nic Cage mega-acting you can handle. And it’s also pretty funny, intentionally so.

    Which makes me feel like I need to point this out: THE LIGHTHOUSE is a comedy, not a horror movie. A weird, anxious, arty comedy, sure, but a comedy nonetheless, and a pretty funny one at that.

  84. Mr. Subtlety, I see now that this argument about LIGHTHOUSE has made the rounds. I can’t get there. The film certainly has a dry sense of humor about it and some moments of comic relief (like Crustacean pointed out), just as it has a touch of the ominous and a few somewhat unsettling but mostly silly horror images. But the scares, laughs, and plot developments are too infrequent and desultory for it to really ring my gong in any genre, and there’s not enough narrative suggestion or molten hot imagery spewing forth for this one to coast on pure personality and subtext.

  85. can confirm that THE COLOR OUT OF SPACE is a fucking blast and also that Osgood Perkins’ THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER is one of the best horror joints of the 00s.

  86. But good to hear re: COLOR OUT OF SPACE. I almost made it out to see it this weekend, but the stars did not align. Looks like I’ll be checking it out on video in a couple weeks. Trying to keep my expectations in check, but pretty pumped for this one.

  87. Mr. S, have your seen Daniel Isn’t Real?

  88. I finally watched THE WITCH for the first time tonight. I liked it. I liked it much better than THE LIGHTHOUSE, that’s for sure. Looking back through the comments, I think Crustacean captures my own experience with it pretty well. I remain utterly unswayed by any hint that this promotes or otherwise legitimizes anti-feminist views or that it reifies witchcraft. It’s a film that aims to be creepy by tapping into archetypal, elemental fears. It presents a very rich, poignant, and utterly harrowing psychology and anthropology. Honestly, I love all kinds of different horror, but I feel that a lot of the horror that we celebrate often is not very horrifying. Most Freddy, Jason, or Michael films: Not horrifying. THE BABYSITTER: good, fun, gory, not horrifying. Whether it succeeds or not, this film is aiming at pure horror on all manner of levels. The horror of exile and isolation+. The horrors of nature, red tooth and claw. The horrors of dark spooky woods and untamed nature, the horror of a God who does not seem to draw near when needed, the horror madness, the horror of infectious paranoia and panic as force of social dissolution. Forsakenness, fundamental betrayal, the failure of authority figures–the walls of a collapsing coming down.


  89. FEAR STREET 1666 is another one to add to Vern’s list of have-its-cake-and-eat-it-too witch trial movies that try to be a condemnation of religious hysteria while also including actual witchcraft. None of the FEAR STREET movies are particularly good in my opinion, but they have their moments. There are times when the period needle-drops reach an almost Joseph-Kahn-level of self-parody. In FEAR STREET 1994 there’s a bit that made me laugh where it hard-cuts directly from Radiohead’s Creep to Cypress Hill’s Insane in the Brain. I was hoping 1666 would include some Baroque-period classics, but no dice.

  90. Seems the best place to say THE NORTHMAN is out over here in the UK and I really dug it, and it’s interesting in how it might take people by surprise on both ends. Much more clear cut and accessible than THE LIGHTHOUSE, but not as much of a historical epic actioner as the trailers might lead people to believe. Kinda like how WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES was marketed like a War movie, when it was much quieter and more character driven. Less a “Viking Revenge Story”, than “Viking REVENGE STORY”. It still commits to the Viking ethos of the characters, has some ambiguously (but not particularly obtuse) supernatural elements, but also questions the Viking way somewhat and has characters feel about certain things the way a real person would. But you still get dudes duelling to the death in front of an erupting Volcano.
    Also I have to say I feel sorry you guys didn’t get to see it on Good Friday like I did, where there’s added humour to a scene where a Viking worries about some brutality and suspects Christians might be responsible because “they nailed their God to a tree, didn’t they?!”.

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