I'm always searching for the epitome of my favourite cultural genres.
I had only four tickets to the Sundance Film Festival this year, and since we had only one early-ish locals ticket purchase timeslot, I had to make those four tickets count. So I drew up a list of my top picks. Number one was The Witch.
In the festival program, The Witch appeared to be pretty much exactly what I enjoy in a horror film. A period piece with a claustrophobic, relationship-centric (what happens when you can't trust those nearest and dearest??), possibly supernatural (but is it??) and hopefully not-too-gory setting. But so often we are usually disappointed, in some aspect or another, in films or books that initially look so promising. There's just always something that isn't quite right. Casting, acting, plot, music, so many details that can, and usually do, feel off.
I went by myself. And I flailed about, grabbing the knee of the complete stranger next to me. I apologized immediately, and then sat on my hands for the rest of the film, trying to stop myself from doing it again, against my will.
It's entirely possible that Robert Eggers has created what is, for me, the perfect horror film. The film is set in 1630, New England. A couple with four children and a fifth on the way are forced out of their village, banished to survive on their own in the wilderness. But they find the seemingly perfect plot of land at the edge of the woods and by the next harvest they've rather magically set up a cozy homestead. The fifth child is born and almost immediately things start to go awry.
It's all here. A beautiful, sexually burgeoning teenage girl. Silvered, claustrophobic, eternally shadowed woods the kids are warned to stay out of. A set of creepy twins (are they just annoying brats or something more sinister?). An unblemished and vulnerable new baby. A teenage boy trying to find his way in an emerging world of responsibilities, where his sister's new breasts are nearly as frightening as a journey into the woods to set traps with with his father. An empathic and protective family dog whom you just know is slated for trouble. A sinister black goat. Family intimacies that threaten to overwhelm such a fragile existence, there outside of civilization, without community resources and support.
Okay, listing all that, I worry it all seems so cliched as to make one dismiss it. But all those other movies with similar elements? They're just trying to be what The Witch actually achieves. From what I understand, it's incredibly historically accurate, particularly in the language, which was heavily researched, drawn from transcripts and diaries from the time. This might make a person leery, with concerns about it being too esoteric to be enjoyed but Eggers strikes a perfect balance so that the language better immerses the viewer in the setting without making it too difficult to understand. The casting is absolutely spot on; the actors - and creatures - all physically representative of the roles they play.
My only hesitation here was the sound; the dialogue was often so loud that I couldn't understand what was being said and the transitions between scenes were often overwhelmingly jarring. Since, of course, this can sometimes be an unfortunate product of the theatre in which it is shown (and I did attend the screening at our local ancient theatre, The Tower), I would hope these nauseating effects would be adjusted for other audiences.
Otherwise, just so perfect for me. Perfect. I came home late last night all high and agitated. It was like I'd spent the last 90 minutes drinking espressos. I had to talk about it for twenty minutes until my boyfriend was exhausted and then read for an hour before I was relaxed enough to even attempt sleep.