I haven’t loved a horror movie in quite a long time. Horror was the genre that fanned the flames of my burgeoning cinephilia, but in the years since those initial viewings, I have grown detached from the genre. None of it seems to appeal to me anymore. The gore no longer sates that teenage sociopathy, and the mechanics of a good scare have become apparent enough that I can only really appreciate them as an outsider looking in. It took The Witch to show me that I can still love a horror film, and much more excitingly, still be scared shitless.
Do me a favour and listen to the following song as you read my review. I believe it captures the tone of the film better than any words I can conjure.
This film is difficult for me to review as I typically like to examine the subtext of a given film, and analyze its themes and messages. However, The Witch is a film that rewards multiple viewings, and on this initial viewing, I could not gather enough information to support any of my theories (the primary one being that of the persecution of women). Mostly because I was trying hard not to shit my pants.
Yes, I had a huge burger before sitting down in the theatre, but that was only partly responsible for my bowel insecurity. From its inception, the film builds a sense of dread that lends a tension to even the banal sequences of the father chopping wood. This dread is seeped into the very setting as, much like season one of True Detective, the mystery and dark allure of the forest portends much of the darkness of (in)human cruelty.
And oh! what cruelty!
The imagery in this film is so dark and cruel and yet somehow manages to avoid being gratuitous, which has become my main issue with most horror films I see. Perhaps I’m just a prudish old man. Or, more likely, is that this film contextualizes its gore in a world which God has seemingly abandoned, or one where He is one wrathful son of a bitch.
One deity who hasn’t abandoned this world however, is Satan, as his workings are felt up to the incredible final image, where we climax with an incredible Satanic ritual. I use the word “climax” intentionally, as there is an air of this being a sexual awakening for the film’s central character, Thomasin, played incredibly by the emerging talent of Anya Taylor-Joy.
And maybe, it is this idea of a woman being driven to evil which best supports my idea of this being a film about the persecution of the female sex. For it is only once Thomasin is liberated of the constraints of her family, that we are allowed to bask in the glory of her womanhood.