There were literally no words after walking out of the theatre post-The VVitch or (The Witch) — not for a few minutes, at least. There was a desire for “quiet time” or some activity to take the mind off of what was just experienced.
With this film, it’s safe to say there has been a noticeable shift in horror cinema. In reality, there really hasn’t been a shift, but:
For a while, the slasher hype seemed to be in full-force (again — it’s cyclical). Plenty of directors were going for exuberant amounts of gore and torture, and the creators endlessly have tried to out-shock each other. Those bloodletting, face smashing sub-genres of horror are still there — may they never go away — but sometimes the ridiculousness of all the splatter is as much of a headache as blatant CGI.
There is an art to it. If blood and guts aren’t to be appropriately or realistically applied, be prepared to go big or go home — there is and there isn’t an in-between (there is, actually, but it comes across as noticeable indecision).
The VVitch is definitely not like that. The self-described folklore
horror movie takes a very minimalist approach, taking the route of realistic violence — as little violence as there is. Director Robert Eggers critically appropriate decision proves to be a successful tact. The story itself, in turn, feels snipped out of a book of folklore and brought to life on-screen.
To accentuate the pacing, which starts off as a walk and strolls to a hard-hitting climax, which blends in beautifully to the denouement. The climax isn’t rapid fire, but it certainly feels that way.
The film — the cloudy weather, the scenes in natural dim lighting — is nothing short of dismal. When the family is banished at the very beginning oft he film, there is no letting go of the sickening feeling. Where the main characters may feel betrayed, the viewer is not and will not feel that way.
The characters are not entirely hopeless. There is a distinction between men, women and children; save some of the characters are coming of age. The women, especially, are very strong characters. Mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) and daughters Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Mercy (Ellie Grainger) are the most vocal and headstrong in their own qualities.
Father William (Ralph Ineson), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) have equal the screen time, but their definite faults, when known, are emphasized and toted along. William is a horrible hunter and farmer — why the hell would he decide to take leave from the colony? Caleb is on the brink of puberty; his hormones act as a catalyst for him to think irrationally and try pick up where is father falls short. Jonas, who is the twin of Mercy, is a child, the typical pain in the ass and lives in his outspoken sister’s shadow.
Hubris — that’s what. They are actually pawns in this waiting game: You know these characters are in over their heads. Man versus man, man versus nature and man versus the supernatural — all the relationships are tested.
The hour-and-a-half film adds up to confidence. The viewer is putty in the storyteller’s hands. The film delights in the anticipation for classic and well-placed jump scares. The consistent tone and the weight of the film, the social and familial situations and second-after-second of uneasiness — this is a very heavy film.
To restate: It’s very beautiful, too.
The end of the film — in my opinion, some aspects work and some do not — may come off sour at first. After thinking about literature and the aspects of folklore, however, the ending is absolutely appropriate. (Eggers should have cut the scene shorter, but it works either way.)
Classic fairy tales, especially those portrayed in Disney films, are not happy stories. Folklore is essentially horror stories in itself. Yes, there usually is a lesson to be learned, but the beloved characters may not have a happy ending. There are oftentimes a wooded area (normally forbidden), witches or goblins or other creatures (normally unpleasant), some kind of duplicitous or chameleon-esque being and characters learn something about themselves. The VVitch utilizes some of the aspects, but the aspects are far from cliche.
The film promises a satisfying experience: A good ol’ fashioned horror flick for a good ol’ fashioned night at the movies. After walking off the unsettling feelings, may there be delightful discussion.
How about recollecting the stories you’ve heard as a child and giving them a good once over? If the stories aren’t satisfying enough, pay a visit to that wooded area where from childhood playtime. Not only revisit it, but go at night. Stare into that mouth of the woods. Where aesthetics may change, feelings may not.
Actually, feelings may change.
The entrance is pitch black. There are creatures — wolves or coyotes, squirrels and foxes — in there. But, at night, second guessing may come into play. Those stories made up as kids may take on a life of their own. Nothing is in there except the four-legged animals and trees. No one lives out there. Shadows won’t appear from the darkness as hands to pull you in. There aren’t any witches.
It’s only imagination, right?