Best thing you'll see all month: The Witch

Title Best thing you'll see all month: The Witch
Author Tom Chick
Posted in Movie reviews
When February 20, 2016

The Witch is not the stuff of horror movies; it is the stuff of folklore. Stolen children. Hovels in the woods. Familiars. Poison apples. Cursed wilderness..

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He shouldn't have sold that damn silver cup.

Even the New York Times liked it:

The thing I don't like about these movies is that if pagan animism were actually more powerful than Christianity, the Teutonic Knights would never have defeated the Lithuanians. But they did, and for a long time, got to call Klaipeda, "Memel." Stick THAT up your Samogitia, horror filmmakers!

Those are Game of Thrones references in your post, right? I'm a little rusty on the specific terminology while waiting on the next season to start.

What I found interesting was the sort of elucidation of the religious imagination of the settlers. I grew up in an evangelical household. The Left Behind series, during my formative years, was speculative science fiction, not apocalyptic fantasy. I'm familiar with how religious imagination (or any kind of ideological imagination) colors one's perceptions. But evangelicalism has a check on it, which is the larger culture in which it resides. It's possible to reorient oneself to peer in from the outside and see where the religious imagination is just that: imagination. It's still powerful, and still a force in culture, but isn't absolutely pervasive.

Not so with the protagonists of The Witch. They're isolated from the nearest humans, and even the other European settlers wouldn't, probably, have objected too much to their interpretation of events. There was no other way to see the world; no other way to interpret what was happening to them. And Eggers is brilliant in how he makes the audience collude with that interpretation, by simply showing us that there actually is a witch out there. (It's very telling that Will, at one point dismisses Kate's insistence that something diabolical is occurring by stressing "Who? Who could be out there? Who is it?" Who indeed? By all appearances the family is one of the very first settlers of Plymouth. I think this is a tip of the hand that the narrator of this folktale, whoever it is, is meant to be unreliable.)

Anyway, I wasn't sure I liked the film as I was walking out of the theater, but the more I think about it, the more I want more like this one: horror films that are horrifying instead of scary, that constrain their focus to short stories or folktales, that demonstrate such remarkable compassion for the human characters in the midst of this trauma and brutality and terror.