It seems to me as if horror has taken a more mannered turn of late – it wants to be taken more seriously, be accepted by the latte crowd, get a wide release and maybe even an art house release. This new direction does not work for me.
I think ‘It Follows’ was a fairly big pointer for where we were headed – languid shots, moody atmosphere, a not-quite-fully-realized storyline, it takes itself all very seriously while offering very few actual scares.
These films are almost thrillers to me (though not that thrilling) and am unsure why they have decided to ride the coat-tails of horror except perhaps to draw in our faithful brethren who would attend any film labeled ‘horror’ in the hopes of that one great discovery – a horror that works.
The Witch, set in the 1600’s, is the story of a family that decides to leave the plantation they live in as they feel the townsfolk aren’t ‘pious’ enough, and set up home on the edge of a forest that unfortunately is home to a witch. Once she succeeds in kidnapping the baby (this and the ensuing fate of the baby are the best scenes in this film and display a nasty creepy edge that unfortunately disappears at this point and is not seen again with the exception of one ‘breast-feeding a raven’ scene that was a true wicked surpris), the family unity starts to unravel and previously papered over cracks erupt.
I understand that this is supposed to be an exercise in tension, in slow burn, in atmosphere, and I am ok with that. I loved Wolf Creek, Rosemary’s Baby, Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity – all fairly slow films that were worth the work; but this movie didn’t pepper the stretches with anything but more stretches. There are long diatribes and religious texts spoken in an accent so thick that subtitles would not have gone amiss, scenes held so long it seemed the director (Robert Eggars) must’ve nodded off and forgotten to yell ‘cut’.
As for the scares? they were non-existent. I can forgive a horror almost anything but that – they must at least attempt to scare me, I felt the witch was so pleased with its near perfect rendering this historical era that it was satisfied to just play it all flat – even scenes that should have had more shock or creep factor (the kiss in the woods, the twins and Black Philip, the apple in the mouth) seemed to have been filmed by someone who didn’t understand the basics of building a horror scene and so they felt less impactful than they should have been.
I read that each character was supposed to represent a different sin and maybe not being religious meant I missed this aspect of the screenplay and its connotations, but I fail to see how this would have added any scares.
There should have been more made of the ominous foreboding of things such as the crops dying, the lack of food, the impending threat of the eldest daughter Thomasina being married off so the family could profit from her ‘selling’, but all these good ingredients were squandered in a muddy script and inaccessible dialogue.
I really wanted to like this film, the basic elements are good and should have combined into a creepy and cohesive whole, but I was disappointed and definitely not scared.
That being said – I loved Back Philip, he was a stroke of goaty genius in an otherwise lackluster effort that has pretty visuals but little else.