Wednesday, March 23, 2016

She Turned Me Into A Newt (I Got Better) or Thoughts on The Witch

 The Witch: A New England Folktale (2016) is a quiet campfire tale told in anachronistic dialogue, lots of thees and thous and a quasi-Shakespearian script.  It’s a bold move that limits audience appeal; people want their stories spoon-fed and easily understood and this movie, much like a novel by Hawthorne or Melville, requires patience, thought and participation.  The movie throws you into the deep end and expects you to keep up, but in its defense after about 20 minutes you’ll become accustomed to the dialogue and will be able to follow along.
The scares come fast in clever and completely original ways in a film enhanced by authentic looking sets and costumes and scenes lit by candlelight like a Vermeer painting.  A 17th Century Pilgrim family lives on a failing farm on the edge of an oppressive, wild forest filled with mysterious sounds and unknown creatures.  Of course, the nearest neighbor is a witch living in a hovel in the woods straight out of Hansel and Gretel.
Anya Taylor-Joy plays Thomasin, the eldest daughter, working just as hard as her parents as she struggles to manage her farm chores and her younger siblings.  Like The Crucible (1996), this film features a teen Pilgrim girl with an overactive imagination, but this is no McCarthy allegory, this movie premise is what if the girls in the Salem Witch trials were actually guilty of witchcraft.  That world is depicted in stunning and visual detail as the family is torn apart from a worldview based on religious fundamentalism and the ensuing paranoia.
These aren’t Harry Potter witches with charmingly eccentric names like Hermione Granger or Minerva McGonagall.  Nor are they solitary misunderstood herbalist healers living peacefully in the woods.   These witches are in congress with the Dark Lord and seem almost feral and barely human.  They do classic witchy things like spoiling milk, stealing children and flying on broomsticks. 
The Witch is a pleasant throwback to the retro-horror of a Val Lewton or a Hammer movie, relying on writing and acting for scares and telling a simple, uncomplicated story.  In a world of CGI monsters where literally anything can be imagined and visualized on screen, it succeeds in bringing a sense of dread and terror in the simple filming of a black goat or an open grave.  Economical filmmaking always fosters creative solutions, by necessity.  And you get a far more accurate portrayal of witchcraft in North America than JK Rowling’s new movie promises.


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.