Little Miss Scare-All

A college goth trying to find her way in the world.
The Witch successfully summons unnerving ambience

The Witch successfully summons unnerving ambience

In the middle of a Halloween rewatch with my friend last week, I noticed that the best horror films have the most simplistic plots. A woman is paranoid that her neighbors are Satanists. A group of friends are being attacked in a cabin deep in the woods. The loglines are easy to come up with, yet their related movies are rich and memorable.

This holds true for The Witch.

The buzz has been going on and on about this particular flick ever since the unsettling trailer came out. I immediately knew that I needed to watch it, but I was simultaneously worried that it’d be all atmosphere and not much else. What happened instead was a pleasant albeit disturbing surprise.

Photo courtesy of A24

Photo courtesy of A24

It all begins with a religious Puritanical-era family leaving a village after the father, William (Ralph Ineson), disagrees with the leaders on how to worship. Their migration leads them many miles away to a seemingly secluded part of Northeast America.

It only takes a few months for their exile to turn sour, which is putting it lightly. A game of pee-ka-boo between older sister Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and newborn Samuel morphs into a game of hide-and-seek when she uncovers her eyes and finds her baby brother to be missing. Unlike a horror movie from earlier this year, the forest right at the edge of this family’s living situation is actually creepy. It is here that the poor babe is taken, sacrificed by a witch for her devilish purposes.

The decline that follows is rapid. Mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) turns on her own daughter with a continuous glare of judgment and suspicion. William fails his family by producing a pitiful crop and not being able to hunt to make up for it. Suddenly this open space they live in feels like a trap. Physically speaking, the woods don’t move closer, but the threat it holds does.

Photo courtesy of A24

Photo courtesy of A24

Lucifer’s gaze shifts from behind the tree branches into the eyes of Black Phillip, a wicked goat that dashes onto their land. His stay is permanent, and the alarmingly young twins Mercy and Jonas immediately take a liking to him. Damnation has visited this family personally.

It could be easy for someone to write off the Satanic symbolism in The Witch as stereotypical, but it never once comes across as cheap. The haunting score paired with bleak cinematography allows for the natural placement of such moments for it’s these instances that add vibrancy to the setting. The most colorful images are the most striking, and it’s their spare use that allows them to be easily seared onto your brain.

This is a story of temptation. There’s various levels of sin in this movie, and Robert Eggers effortlessly explores every single one. There were a few shots that lingered longer than necessary or that weren’t needed at all, but it’s still incredibly impressive for someone’s directorial debut.

If you’re looking to jump out of your seat in terror, this one isn’t for you. If you’re hoping to have discomfort overcome you in a darkened movie theater, then go and buy a ticket. Come on, The Witch is Satanic Temple-approved; viewing it can at least work as a conversation starter.

 

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Horror shouldn’t be judged by how scary it is

Horror shouldn’t be judged by how scary it is

The Internet is abuzz with people stating that they’ve found the scariest movie of the past few years. These posts are so sure of themselves, that is until they find the next scariest horror film the following week. I’ve got one site declaring The Witch to be unbearably terrifying while another calls The Taking of Deborah Logan the most horrifying movie on Netflix.

I see posts like these all the time and while their air of certainty may vary, there’s one thing that stays the same: the comments.

A collection of screenshots I recently took from a Facebook comment section.

A collection of screenshots I recently took from a Facebook comment section.

An overwhelming about of them will be about how the movie isn’t scary at all which somehow leads to the conclusion that it’s a waste of time. What a narrow-minded and simplistic method of judgment. This one-step way of declaring a verdict would leave me without horror films to love.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching horror movies since my toddler years, but I’ve never once been scared by one, and yet it’s one of my favorite genres. While I’m sure it’s a thrill having a piece of entertainment leave you unnerved and suspicious of every dark corner as you crawl into bed at night, I see it as a mere bonus.

It’s telling that some of the classics aren’t host to a spine-chilling effect; I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t love Night of the Living Dead, but I’ve also never met anyone who’s been scared by it.

This is a journey of survival in a horror environment. Enjoyable without the need for absolute terror.

This is a journey of survival in a horror environment. Entertaining without the need for absolute terror. (photo courtesy of The Water Reade Organization)

I’ve been seeing a lot of praise for Kristy this week (sidenote: you’re better off watching You’re Next) but I don’t see many instances in which someone could actually be scared by it.

This is a genre routed in the psychological with an occasional dash of comedy. It’s why Rosemary’s Baby is more mysterious than anything else and why many people enjoy watching Black Christmas when December rolls in.

If a movie is actually scary, by all means, applaud it, but it shouldn’t be the most important box on the “Is a horror movie worth it?” checklist.

With the desensitization brought to us by the Internet age, there’s not much that can scare the general population anymore. I think the only person that’s been scared by a movie recently has been my sister, and that’s just because it’s not that hard to have that affect on her. If we don’t stop holding horror to currently unreachable standards, we’re all going to be a very unhappy bunch. Enjoy it for the ride; that’s what it’s there for.

 

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