I am afraid of everything, and I adore horror movies. I love the thrill of fear and adrenaline a great scary movie brings. Having heard fantastic things about The Witch from critics and reviewers alike I was eager to head to the theatre and see it. After a lovely day of skating and eating out, we headed to an evening showing.
It was two hours of my life that I’ll never get back.
Spoilers below the cut.
The Witch is set in Puritanical New England, and begins with the main family being cast out of their settlement. The first thing that struck me about this film was the score. It was jarring and loud, contrasting with the quiet scenery and continuing over scene changes. It continued to pop in and out seemingly at random during the film and was fairly unpleasant. Not in a good horror movie unsettling way, just in a ‘my ears really want this awful noise to end’ kind of way. It would build to an unbearably loud crescendo and end abruptly sometimes after a scene change and sometimes with no prompting at all.
Overall the score was clumsy and unpleasant.
The dialogue was supposedly true to the era, although it sounded rather contrived and unnatural in the film, especially in short lines and in those spoken by children. As for the realism of the family itself, that seemed true to form for a super religious pioneer era family. They tried to purge themselves of sin through prayer, but remained incredibly hypocritical and unpleasant people despite that.
Thomasin (the oldest daughter) is tasked with looking after her youngest brother Samuel (a baby) and he disappears. Her family (her mother especially) blames her for his loss, and become increasingly antagonistic towards her. She is then tasked with looking after her twin siblings who are little brats who refuse to listen to her. She is blamed for their lack of discipline, and when she attempts to scare the girl into listening to her it only makes things worse.
The twins speak to and sing songs about the goat they have on the farm (Black Phillip) and yet they’re never suspected of anything sinister because Thomasin is a teenaged girl so of course she must be a witch. Despite the fact that goats are traditionally symbols of Satan and the kids sing creepy songs about him, and pretend to be afflicted with the same illness as Caleb (their older brother). It seemed intensely unlikely.
All this film ended up being were scenes of prayer, antagonism towards Thomasin, and suspicion and paranoia that was just exhausting to watch. Quite frankly, this movie was boring to watch. There were no scary scenes and the narrative was fairly non-existent. They clearly tried to create scary scenes but the boredom in the theatre was palpable, laughter even breaking out after one particularly striking scene near the end, when the mother believes her dead children have come back to her and her breast is actually being pecked at by a crow.
Trying to establish fear from tension is one thing, but there cannot be tension where there is a lack of compelling story. When you’re basing your film on a ‘New England Folktale’ I think you have to take into account the hysteria and religious fear of the era. Women were accused of being witches purely because any independence or sexuality on their part was thought of as morally wrong. Young women were accused of being ‘whores’ solely for existing.
This film’s attempt at bringing in supernatural elements near the end seemed at odds with everything else, and it made me roll my eyes. I heard groans from others in the theatre as well. I wasn’t afraid at any point during this film.
I didn’t enjoy this movie and I wouldn’t recommend it. It was a boring two hours that I’m shocked critics have praised. There was absolutely nothing about it that was redeemable and I regret having seen it.