Thursday, October 20, 2016

I Have Something For You to Watch on Halloween

One of the more memorable scenes from the film. Can't tell you what's going on though, and it's hurting my soul.
The VVitch came out of nowhere, and I do mean nowhere. Shot in some desolate woods in Canada over 25 days by a freshman director who looks like he just stumbled out of the most hipster hipster bar in Los Angeles, I had heard things about it. Mostly that it was legit the most terrifying, unsettling film that will make your blood run cold. I was assuming this was coming from people who had never seen The Shining, or Rosemary's Baby, or The Exorcist. But now that I too have seen it, I will gladly put The VVitch into that group. I've read Arthur Miller's The Crucible more times than I care to remember and the Salem Witch Trials were never handled with that much honesty and brevity since. 

Does this not remind you of a certain famous painting?
But this is not about that. And the parallels between it and the New Testament were so subtle, nuanced, and brilliant it made me think; 'wow, hipsters can direct'. Robert Eggers, barely 32 (so exactly my age) cast a film with an all British (with the exception of one Scot) cast for this unsettling horror-type movie. I'm hesitant to call it a horror movie, even though that's how it's been marketed. To me, it's a period piece; a bleak drama much like There Will Be Blood with a lot of seriously disturbing images and themes. This is not a film for your parents or for the faint of heart, seriously you've been warned. 
I am not going to give away any spoilers, what I will give you is the premise. Set maybe a few years prior to Salem, a Puritan family is banished for the patriarch's disagreements with his elders about interpretations in the Bible. Defiant, he moves his family; wife Catherine, daughter Thomasin, son Caleb, and two really annoying twins around 5 or so to the wilderness...oh and there's a newborn who's pivotal to the story. What he was thinking I don't know, but it's his pride that spurred the journey and that's already giving stuff away. Now, anyone who is a horror purist knows that only bad shit can happen to you in isolation in the woods. The daughter Thomasin is the central character, who is about to reach 'womanhood' i.e. puberty, and the parents discuss selling her to another family so she can properly deal with it, which was not uncommon at the time. They are completely isolated save for their farm animals one of which is a surly black goat with giant horns called Black Phillip. The twins claim that he speaks to them and they speak back, and as we know, when animals do that and only little kids notice it, it's a common horror trope. But then it launches into a whirlwind of bizarre and such visceral happenings that you WILL have trouble sleeping at night. Even though you live in the middle of the city and don't own any goats. 

Black Phillip
What is beautiful about the film is the pacing (borrowed no doubt from Ingmar Bergman) where it emphasizes the feeling of degradation and isolation and eventually hopelessness and loss of faith. The other major aesthetic (borrowed from Kubrick no doubt) is the decision to shoot exclusively with natural light. And anyone who has ever made a movie, whether a 3-hour opus or a student film knows that negating your Omni's is basically film suicide. But to get the authentic feel the director strove for, it paid off.
Again, can't say what's happening. It's not a cliché exorcism I can tell you that much.
Now, you're probably thinking, they are in the wilderness near creepy woods, the film is called The VVitch...there's a witch in the woods, bam, you solved the puzzle...NOPE! And if you want to know what's actually up, guess what, WATCH IT. Stay home from the lame Halloween party you were invited to where everyone will be dressed as either Donald Trump or someone from Orange is the New Black, and just cuddle up with a pet or a stuffed animal like a child because no matter how tough you think you are, this movie will crawl under your skin and scare the life out of you. 

The climax of the film...have I left a good cliffhanger?
It was so impressive to see a film that was not only shot for under 2 million, made the rounds at Sundance and got picked up by A24, but that resurrected a genre that's basically become a parody of itself. If we label it a horror film, it's definitely up there with the aforementioned Rosemary's Baby, The Shining, etc. And it was directed by a guy who's basically the bastard child of Polanski, Bergman, and Kubrick; not a bad label to have. AND it's his first film. This was such a relief and single handedly restored my faith in the genre while making me slightly suicidal. Just kidding, but it did stick with me for so long and so strongly that I'm still not able to shake it off. 
Oh and in its defense, people were wondering why the fuck it's spelled the way it's spelled and that's because that's what pamphlets that made rounds in the colonies around that time looked like when they were asking people to beware of VVitches. It's not a hipster thing...well maybe a little bit. There I just gave you Halloween plans, you're welcome. 

Trailer below. 

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