[SPOILER ALERT] The Witch [SPOILER ALERT]
It’s mid-afternoon on the first really “fall” day of the season. The air is chilly, the wind is blowing, and leaves are beginning to cover the lawn. I spend part of my morning walking the local cemetery, learning some family and community history, so I’m primed for a scary movie.
The Witch is rated R and is available on Amazon Prime. At the time of our viewing, it has the following online ratings:
Rotten Tomatoes 91% critics,55% audience
We have high hopes for this movie. Mikey is excited because Patton Oswald says it is the scariest movie ever and I’m always intrigued by the hysteria surrounding the witch trials. The movie starts by telling us it is a “New England Folk Tale”. We both take notes throughout the movie and send our chosen questions to one another via Google Docs afterward. Below, you can find his responses to my questions. He’s posting my responses to his questions here, on his website.
Solee: Right off the bat, the soundtrack was very noticeable and shrill. Did this establish a mood and build up tension for you or did it just make your ears bleed?
Mikey: What I hated about the soundtrack was how it was vastly louder than the dialogue (a pet peeve for sure). But as far as what it sounded like and what it was doing, I think it was pretty good. There were some really overblown moments. One that stands way out in my mind is right at the beginning there’s a shot of absolutely nothing, just some trees and grass, and there’s this massive strings explosion going to make you think a shark is going to attack. I don’t even know the purpose of that shot, much less the reason they needed to blow my ears out on it.
Solee: They definitely wanted us to be afraid of those woods. Let’s jump right in to the story. I’m a little confused about something. If the witch were able to whisk the baby away in a matter of seconds from the center of a field without being seen, why did she have to run all the way through the woods on foot with him afterward?
Mikey: It’s clear to me that she was running very low on mana (she was at like 7/148 mana) – hence the need for baby squishing – so she only had enough left for the one bit of magic. Not sure whether it was invisibility or teleportation, but either way, it was only enough to get her to the baby and back into the woods!
Solee: Ah. That explains it. Will, the father, uses one phrase several times: “Let us not speak of this again.” What do you think of this as a strategy for dealing with the kind of inevitable tragedy present in colonial life?
Mikey: That’s the one thing this movie really nailed down and hit hard: how awful and on-the-edge the life was for these people on the frontier (especially this family, who were not really socially tied to anybody else). It’s hard to even imagine the level of desperation they faced every day. When their child was kidnapped, the dad pointed out how lucky they had been that it took this long to lose a child and that they all made it through birth! So I think, for that degree of awful, maybe “let’s just not talk about it” might be a solution. It’s a whole different story than a modern life where everybody has to worry about feelings and being validated. When every day is scraping by to just not die, keeping yourself from perseverating on doom might be a good move.
Solee: It wasn’t until he pointed it out that I realized how really lucky they had been up to this point. Speaking of kids, I was struck by the universal nature of the scene where the kids are pretending to be asleep so they can hear the secrets their parents are keeping. I remember being crouched at the end of the hallway as a 6- or 7-year-old watching my parents watch TV and talk in the late evening. Do you have memories of secretly listening to your parents as a child?
Mikey: Growing up, we had this air conditioning system (whoo, fancy!), which consisted of ducts in the floor connecting the rooms of the house. I do remember putting my ear to that duct because you could really hear what people were saying in other rooms through it. But I was probably listening to my sisters. I don’t really remember caring too much what grownups were doing! Other than finding the presents at Christmas time, and that was more about searching than listening.
Solee: I think that’s pretty universal, too. I loved the atmosphere this movie establishes with it’s costumes and sets. Is the style of the late 1600s – clothing, architecture, speech, etc – inherently spooky? Or does it just seem that way because it’s the setting of so many witchcraft stories?
Mikey: I think it is indeed creepy. It goes back to that bare survival. Everything was really bleak, so everybody felt and acted really bleak. I’m sure there were plenty of happy fun times, but it’s hard to picture them when you’re seeing this kind of grim movie. Anyway, I think things were so proscribed and stilted that nobody could really be open and joking, or they’d be violating some sort of rule. And death was everywhere all the time, and nobody had enough scientific knowledge to understand what was happening around them, attributing things to ghosts and demons, so yeah, pretty spooky life.
Solee: We have so much access to knowledge now. I don’t think most of us appreciate how amazing that is. How about your HALF-TIME ANALYSIS: Do you feel like you understand what’s happening at this point? Do you feel like you know where the movie is going? If so, how confident are you in your predictions?
Mikey: At halfway, I feel like I’m kind of at a loss. Only a few things have really happened at this point, it’s sort of like a very dark Little House On The Prairie. The big thing is that I feel like there’s some mythology behind this witch that I’m just not familiar with, and I should probably know what she’s up to, but I just don’t know the legend. So with that, I feel like there’s no real mystery here, but also no clear path forward in my mind.
So, that said, here’s my completely made-up rest of the movie: I predict that the evil goat is going to kill one of the twins, their food will become rotten right in front of their faces, and Thomasin will eventually face and defeat the witch by going inside the witch’s lair itself. Oh, also that something evil got into Caleb and he’s bringing it back to the farm.
An alternate theory I want to throw out there, which I seriously doubt, is that Thomasin is the witch (the only witch), and that explains why kids keep disappearing under her watch. But I don’t think that really pans out. It could be fun though. I think my alternate theories are always “it turns out <main character> is really <the badguy>”. It’s a fun trick if you do it right!
Solee: I’m really torn between feeling sorry for her and feeling suspicious of her. I think her father felt the same. What do you think Will was hoping to achieve by boarding his remaining children up in the goat pen overnight?
Mikey: One part of this is protection: whichever kid is a witch, let’s not have them in the house causing more problems (pretty selfish!). Another part is kind of your basic superstition of the time: it’s penance. These kids are evil, and the cold and discomfort will whip them into the shape, blah blah something about the Lord setting them straight.
Solee: I couldn’t help but see parallels between the superstitious jumping to conclusions of the colonists in the movie and the almost willful ignorance of certain groups in our own society today (Westborough? Scientology? etc). Is it possible that those who believed in witchcraft at that time were a small minority that happened to be getting a lot of attention and we’ve just latched on to the drama of that story, blowing it up into a much bigger thing than it actually was? Do you think it’s possible the same will happen with our own history 300+ years from now?
Mikey: That’s deep stuff! I really don’t know the history side of that at all. We all think of those times as when everybody would accuse anything slightly odd of being the result of witchcraft, but it’s totally possible (and even makes sense to me, knowing how people are) that that was actually pretty rare and that most people just thought “oh, that was weird. Anyway…” when they saw something strange.
I think it’s inevitable that historians looking back at the distant past will latch on to specific, more interesting, trends and their research will become mainstream and blow up into “that’s how it was all over back then”. As an example without such a long timeframe, look at the 80’s. All popular images of the 80’s are all about the new wave music, crazy hair, and stupid colorful clothes. But in reality, I was there, and you know what I wore through the entire 80’s? Jeans and t-shirts. Same thing I wear today! And incidentally, my hair was exactly the same as it is now too! I did have this ‘fancy shirt’ phase a year or two in high school… but it wasn’t an 80’s thing, it was a Parker Lewis thing!
So when you think about the 80’s being 30some AUGH SERIOUSLY years ago, versus the 1600s being four hundred years ago, you know our popular view of what life was like is completely wrong. It must have not been even close to what we think. I think we can guarantee that 300 years from now, people will have no idea what our lives were like (do we even know today? I mean, life be crazy). My guess is they’ll mash all of 1960-2020 together into one cultural blob of 80’s haircuts, grunge, punk, disco, and Justin Bieber.
Solee: Given the massive amounts of social media documenting every person’s every random thought, they’ll have lots of conflicting information to sort through. I’m glad I won’t be around to hear what they think. Let’s move on to the POST-GAME ANALYSIS:
What was the final body count?
Mikey: Six human bodies, a dog, a bunny, and 2 goats. And I feel like there was a 3rd animal too, in the barn.
Solee: That’s a lot of bodies. Were you scared at any point in the movie?
Mikey: No way. Patton Oswalt sold me a bill of goods on this movie and I’ll never forgive him. I learned about this movie earlier this year, when it came out, because of him tweeting relentlessly about how insanely terrifying and creepy it all was. There was not a moment of nervousness or jump scare in this entire movie. Far from a horror movie, I would call this more like a grim fairy tale (see what I did there??). And definitely a period piece – it seemed like the main element of this movie was showing us what they imagined life was like back then, much more so than any scary stuff.
Solee: So it didn’t meet your expectations. How accurate were your predictions?
Mikey: Not even close! I do wonder about Caleb though. The fact that he went all the way out there, made out with the witch, and came back, only to collapse dead a couple hours later… it seems like something major was missing from the movie, didn’t it? Like that whole trip was kind of pointless, other than to really throw a bunch of fairy-tale imagery in our faces. I guess it was the impetus behind really starting the accusations flying.
Solee: Given the beliefs and fears of the time and the psychological damage that loss and isolation bring, could this story have transpired any differently? Or was the destruction of this family inevitable once Sam was taken?
Mikey: I think it certainly could have gone differently (there’s nothing inevitable about nursing a raven, I always say). I don’t know if it could have gone “better” and still have been believable though. The most unsettling part of this movie had nothing to do with actual witches, it was the paranoia and backstabbing that came from people accusing each other of being witches (and parents believing their lying snotty brats for some reason. Really guys? How gullible are you?).
Solee: Those kids! Ugh! Finally, how would you rate this movie? Who should watch this movie and in what context?
Mikey: This is hard to rate, because it’s clearly well made. The acting, directing, and all of that are extremely well done. But as a horror movie specifically, it’s an absolute failure, and I don’t even believe it belongs in that category. I was completely thrown by what I saw as compared to what I had been primed to see (and I saw a trailer back then too, which also made this look like a super creepy movie). It’s also not really enjoyable to watch in any way – it’s totally bleak, and it’s nothing but death and failure and paranoia. No good can come of this movie!
So my rating… is very hard to say. I guess I’ll call it a 2.5/5 to respect the skill involved, while also docking it for just not being enjoyable. I don’t feel good about that rating, but I’ve been boxed into a corner and have no other options – it’s like I’m living this movie!
Solee: I’m sorry you were disappointed. Maybe you’ll feel better about tomorrow’s selection. It’s an anthology called Holidays. There’s no way that can go wrong!