Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Sundance ’15: The Witch
you want to psychoanalyze a culture, look at the horror movies it produces,
because that will show you what really scares them. Consider this the exception
that proves the rule. In writer-director Robert Eggers’ period chiller, early
1600s Puritan New Englanders feared the Devil could have designs on their
souls. Worse still, they might be tempted to deal it away. These are not
baseless anxieties in Eggers’ The Witch,
which screens during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
to their father’s zealous pride, Thomasin’s family has been expelled from their
Puritan community to an isolated hardscrabble farm, where they must fend for
themselves entirely. It has not been going well. Their crop failure is bad news
in strictly economic and sustenance terms, but it is even more ominous as a
sign or portent. Poor teenage Thomasin becomes the family scapegoat after her
infant brother uncannily vanishes while she is minding him. Her father is
relatively forgiving, but her mother is witheringly judgmental.
course, the grieving parents are understandably disturbed, since they believe
their unbaptized baby is now surely damned. Unfortunately, Thomasin’s bratty
young sister and (now) youngest brother mischievously or perhaps maliciously
seem to do everything possible to cast supernatural suspicion on Thomasin, yet
they seem to be the ones who are inexplicably drawn to the family goat, Black
would have thought a moody, suggestive period horror film would be the hot
ticket at Sundance, but it clearly pays to have a p&i screening on the
first full day of the festival. Regardless, it is an unusually effective and
historically accurate film. Those are wooden trunnels holding the farmhouse
together, not nails. Throughout the film, you can feel a palpable sense of
physical and spiritual isolation that malevolent powers may or may not be
exploiting. There is indeed a fair degree of ambiguity in The Witch, but it is still safe to say evil is afoot.
cast also looks and sounds perfectly in keeping with the times. There is no
hamming it up or hinting at contemporary ironies. As Thomasin, Anya Taylor-Joy
comes across as a genuinely tormented soul, while Ralph Ineson and his rich,
commanding voice seem to carry the historical weight of Puritanism and all its
collected hypocrisies. These are haunted people in more ways than one.
In the movies, good things rarely happen in the
deep, dark woods. The Witch is no exception.
It is a visually arresting film, sensitively lensed by Jarin Blaschke with a
suitably Puritanical, washed-out color palette, but in a way that pulls viewers
into the world and intensifies the mounting dread. Enthusiastically recommended
for fans of high end genre films, The
Witch screens again today (1/29) and Saturday (1/31) in Park City and
tomorrow (1/30) in Salt Lake, as a U.S. Dramatic Competition title at this year’s
Sundance Film Festival.
Labels: Sundance '15, Witch films