by Evan J Peterson
Join us at Naked City Brewery in Greenwood for SHRIEK: The Witch! Robert Eggers’ divisive 2015 film takes horror into small, quiet, domestic territory—making it all the more frightening.
Tickets available here.
Stats on The Witch (2015)
Director: Robert Eggers
Writer: Robert Eggers, based on historical documents and folklore
Major actors: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson
Score: Mark Korven
Nudity: Only female
Sexual Assault: Strongly implied child molestation (off-screen)
Gore: Spare yet effective
Major Protagonists: Male and female
Villains: No spoilers
Does it pass the Bechdel-Wallace test? Yes, more or less.
One of the great successes of The Witch is the power of its implications. At eight minutes, something happens that I’ve never seen in another horror film, yet it happens mostly off-screen. From there on, anything is possible.
At ten minutes, incestuous desire is already implied. This atmosphere of wicked things unseen gives a creepiness to The Witch that is welcome in a genre heavy on spectacle and often light on story. Perhaps that’s why horror fans are so split on it—this is a quiet little film, yet it pulsates with malice and paranoia. It’s heavy on dialogue (much of it requiring close attention to its seventeenth century English) as well as heavy on character. Not a lot of blood, but when it’s seen it’s thoroughly unsettling.
A staunchly Christian family breaks from their colonial community and is subsequently torn apart. Farming as they do on the edge of the forest, The Witch captures the inherent fears of the wilderness that were so common among Christian Europeans and American settlers. The Pagan/Satanic witch that is so deeply feared is an embodiment of the forest, the wild and threatening world full of wolves and danger and, to the Christian characters, demonic magic.
The characters are fittingly complex: alternately sympathetic, pitiful, and nasty. The family, isolated on their farm even from other Christians due to the father’s extremism, becomes a microcosm of the witch trials. The Witch has quite a bit in common with Carpenter’s The Thing: isolation, paranoia, fatal accusations, and a natural quiet disrupted by terror.
In a film so heavy on character and dialogue, good acting is essential. The Witch has it in spades. The most delightful surprise is the acting prowess of the younger cast members; teenage Anya Taylor-Joy (Thomasin) is fantastic, as are all the children (and the adults to boot).
The film’s climax is indeed delivered “deliciously.” After a wrenching journey through superstitious paranoia that turns sister against sister and parent against child, our perspective character, teenaged Thomasin, manages to make the best of a devastating situation and survive, nay thrive, by any means necessary.
Some bloggers and internet film critics have called this film one of the most feminist films of the year. Others say it’s not really all that feminist. Let’s let the audience make up their own minds.
See you this Sunday, November 13, for SHRIEK: The Witch! 21+, please. Food and alcoholic beverages available on site, as well as tickets at the event.
Evan J. Peterson (evanjpeterson.com) is a college professor, author, and journalist. He is a Clarion West alum, and he received his MFA from Florida State University. His writing has been featured in The Stranger, BoingBoing, Weird Tales, Nightmare Magazine, Queers Destroy Horror, and TheBody.com. His books include The Midnight Channel, Skin Job, Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam: Gay City 5, and the forthcoming nonfiction book The PrEP Diaries. He lives in Seattle with his werewolf, Dorian Greyhound.