Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Witch

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! In case you're wondering, yes, they do try to pull the whole "based on a true story/inspired by true events" nonsense with this one.

The Witch – 3 out of 5

I’ve seen far too many horror films in my life.  Add in the fact that I went to school and studied the rhetoric of films and the filmmaking process and this has resulted in the fact it is very hard to scare me.  Not to mention that the horror genre is one of those categories that are a magnet for low budget filmmaking and it has caused me to sit through a lot of poorly made horror films that are too cheap or predictable to be considered scary.  Finally, I’ve also fallen trap to the over-hyped horror films that are told to be the scariest thing in all of existence and I sit down with too high of expectations and I get disappointed.  (It Follows comes to mind with that instance.)  So, needless to say, I didn’t sit down with The Witch (or should I type it in the stylized way of The VVitch?) with the highest of expectations.  The movie was getting a helluva lot of praise (Stephen King even said it scared the hell out of him) and I started to worry if the film was just all hype.  Well, it kinda/sorta was.
The twist is this all took place on a stupid forest preserve.

In 1630, a Puritan family leaves their church behind for a life on a small farm in the middle of the woods.  The father William (Ralph Ineson) is bound and determined to make their situation work and relies on his unshakeable faith to do it.  However, tragedy strikes when their youngest son mysteriously disappears.  This leaves the mother (Kate Dickie) distraught and the oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) to do her best to keep the farm running and to take care of the twins.  However, after her brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) disappears only to reappear sick and suffering from madness, the family begins to turn on each other and feel that they are cursed by witchcraft and that a user of the dark arts is residing in the surrounding woods.  Or, even worse, that Thomasin herself is the witch…

And they think she's a legit witch--like praise the dark lord and curses kind of
witch.  Not the kind of witch that people think they are in order to
rebel against their Christian parents after they visit Salem, Massachusetts.

Personally, I feel The Witch was marketed completely wrong.  The film was sold as a completely terrifying horror film. However, viewing it as a horror film, I found the feature to be completely disappointing.  I didn’t find anything about it scary or even creepy.  There’s some great tension in it but it was derived from the family dynamic and not really from the moments that should have been spooky.  In fact, during the moments that were supposed to be the scary moments, I found myself laughing at how silly they were.  And there was no point that made me giggle harder than the end.  No Spoilers but that ending looked like it was created by Monty Python. 

Can I see Kate Dickie in something where she's not breastfeeding someone?
Well, at least this time around it's a baby and not an adolescent child.

So, as a horror film, I think the film was a failure but that isn’t to say I didn’t like the film.  I just didn’t think it was scary.  Where I felt the film was immensely successful was in the dialogue, performances, and the drama of the family.  With the films locations and the incredibly well written dialogue, The Witch really succeeds in transporting you to the 17th Century and really helped immerse me into the reality the story took place in.  I was also super impressed with the performances of every character.  The cast is all incredibly talented and, as a dude who performs in a Shakespeare troupe, I know how hard it can be to make dated dialogue sound like it makes sense but these performers all nailed it and nailed it incredibly.  The illusion was fully realized in this film and it really felt like the era was authentic.

They say you shouldn't work with kids and animals but the kids in this film
were amazing!

One major concern I had very early on in the film was the music.  Music can often make or break the atmosphere and tone of a horror film.  One element that is once again becoming increasingly popular in scary movies is the use of overpowering music.  Heavy crescendos, unnecessarily loud striking tones used in place of mood-setting music were used heavily in the golden era of slashers to highlight the activities on screen and have, since then, been used to set-up fake scares in a lot of movies now.  This latter usage was seen in the early moments of the film and I feared I would have to sit through a film that pumps in stupidly loud music during mundane scenes in order to give the illusion that something horrifying was happening.  Thankfully, this doesn’t come into play beyond a few scenes at the beginning.  It was nice to not have this but it also made the film feel unbalanced as this element just feels thrown away and forgotten; like it was considered and then discarded without going back to edit that out.

But thankfully, the sexy appeal was unrelenting.

The final aspect that really sucked me into the movie was how interesting the family dynamic was.  The isolation, their faith in their God being questioned, and their family structure being torn asunder from paranoia and fear was epic, enthralling and really made the film interesting to watch.  One thing I really enjoyed was how the family turned against each other when they thought Thomasin was the witch.  This aspect was so rich and intriguing that it had me feeling that maybe this should have been how the movie unfolded.  Perhaps ambiguity should have been the name of the game and the viewer never should have known whether or not there was a witch lurking in the woods and, instead, you’d question if there was a witch at all and whether or not it was Thomasin.  However, that’s just me and just a desire I had because I wasn’t too thrilled or impressed with the horror elements of the film.

This goat is Black Phillip.  He has an important role in the story...
but that didn't stop me from always wanting to call him Captain Phillips.

Overall, I dug The Witch but can’t say I was super impressed with it either.  While well made as a tension-filled drama movie, the film just wasn’t that interesting as a horror movie.  The family dynamic and acting is incredible to watch but the film lacks a horror film tone and I felt no creepy atmosphere at all throughout it.  The film is incredibly well made and there are elements of the story that I thought were just awesome but just found it didn’t work as horror film.  On that front, that’s where I felt the film was all hype and no substance.

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