WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.
For my thoughts on this movie, check out Solange's post on SoloRien.wordpress.com
The Witch (2016)
: 91% critics, 55% audience
We watched on Amazon Prime.
An original work by Solange! (Not as original as usual. Her disclaimer: "This picture was entirely traced! I cannot draw people!")
IMDB’s description: “A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.”
We watched this movie on an overcast afternoon, while the leaves were really falling from the trees for the first time this year. I chose this movie because I remembered how Patton Oswalt had lost his mind tweeting about how it was so deeply terrifying when it came out. Let's see how his recommendation went...
Mikey: Isn’t she just the worst at shoveling?
OMG. You’re not kidding. I watched her actually go through the whole shoveling motion with NOTHING on her shovel at least twice. I know she’s really a 20 year old who was raised in the privileges of modern America, but that was just ridiculous! What are they teaching in schools these days anyway??
Mikey: The forest is so grim. Not a happy place. Early on, with all the crazy blaring orchestra music, I got the impression they were trying to make the forest a character in the film - these people trying to survive on the outskirts of this vast incomprehensible danger. Did you feel that the forest was a key part of the film, or was it all just about the family themselves? Would it have been the same out on the plains?
I agree that the forest was a major character in the film. It loomed over the farm. I remember questioning the wisdom of that location as the family knelt in prayerful thanks. The forest should have been a source of protection, giving meat, firewood, etc. Instead it was where all the worst things happened to them for most of the movie. I’m only just making the connection now, but the father spent all his free time chopping wood, which is very symbolic, if you ask me.
One of the great things about nature in storytelling is that Mother Nature’s got lots of ways of torturing human beings. The forest was a handy way to destroy the lives of this family, but if they’d lived in the plains it would have been the wind and the wide open expanses. If they lived next to an ocean, the water would have stolen their sons. The world is a scary place!
Mikey: It was great when the twin devil children got put on a leash. One of several laugh-out-loud moments in this plodding black nightmare. That’s very modern of them, but it also seemed like the only solution to those little monsters. Those kids, what up with them?! Were they just horrible, or bewitched?
That was one of my favorite moments. I’d be lying if I said I never thought about doing that to my little brothers when I babysat. :)
Those were the WORST kids. I’m not at all sure why the parents held poor Thomasin to such high standards while allowing the twins to act like little beasties. They sang creepy songs about the devil goat from the very beginning. Maybe there’s some unwritten rule that kids can be kids up to a certain age? They looked old enough to be helping out around the house if you ask me. I honestly wasn’t that saddened by their ultimate fate.
Mikey: Halfway in, 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?
This family, ostracized from the village for reasons of faith, has built their farm on the edge of a witch’s wood. Life goes downhill from there. The witch is sucking the life force from the children who stray too closely to the forest (such a fairy tale trope!). I kind of hope the witch gets the twins soon. I predict that Caleb, who has recently returned naked and sick from the forest, will be irresistibly drawn back to the witch. Thomasin will eventually kill the witch somehow, but not before losing more of (or all of) her family. Her triumph over the witch will be supernatural or religious in nature, perhaps emphasizing the power of prayer. I’m about 65% confident in these predictions. Fairy tales have a pretty predictable story arc, and I’m sure this movie will do something to shake that up.
Mikey: So in reality, these people are all fancy Hollywood types with iPhones who drove out to this farm in their SUVs, spent 2 hours in makeup, and then stepped out onto this farm and started calling each other “thee” and “thou”. Do you ever find yourself slipping into thinking about that? Can you imagine the demon kids stepping off-camera and playing Growtopia on their Androids? It kind of makes the acting seem more impressive when you think about it.
That idea never came to me while I was watching the movie (except when we talked about the shoveling). I was fully immersed in the world of 17th century colonial life. The dialogue and the clothing and the look of the farm were well done and made it easy to fall into the story.
I thought the acting was very impressive. It’s not easy to make such period specific language sound natural to a modern audience and I thought they did a very nice job of it. It’s kind of trippy to think about them switching into normal mode when the director yells “Cut!”, though. I often wonder how difficult it is for really good actors to come out of character and find themselves again. I would think it would be easy to forget what was really you.
Mikey: The witch was so fairy-tale. The cackling took it a step so far that it almost seemed like she had to not be real, like she was some delusion of the children, right? But the plot of the movie doesn’t support that. I don’t really have a question here, I’m just like… what? How are we supposed to be scared in a movie where the witch actually cackles?
Is it possible that the witch was not really there at any point? What if Thomasin lost the baby somehow… dropped it, it stopped breathing, a wolf really did take it… and it just kind of broke her brain? There were some seriously disturbing looks between her and Caleb that could have led to something bad. She was locked in there with the twins, and I don’t remember seeing her during that scene. That feels pretty far-fetched, since I didn’t see anything that really supported this conjecture. I don’t really think that’s what the writers were going for, but it’s fun to look for different layers of meaning.
Mikey: Now that the movie's over, how right or wrong were you about your predictions?
I was pretty much universally wrong. Oops.
Mikey: Were you scared at any point?
No. This was not a scary movie. I was seriously disturbed by some of the imagery, but in a “Whoa, they really went there” kind of way instead of a “I’m super grossed out” kind of way.
Mikey: What on earth was the witch up to? It’s pretty clear she got youth from the baby, but she wasn’t done tormenting the family at that point. She absolutely drove them to ruin. What was her goal?
This is a very good question. She’s clearly not a good neighbor. I mean, she IS a witch. I’m sure having to kidnap babies and turn them to facial cream regularly in order to keep her figure is a little hard on the sanity.
Mikey: You have three areas to consider in this movie: Writing, Directing (including editing, music and cinematography), and Acting. Which was good, which was bad, and which was ugly?
Writing - Goodish?
Directing - Good, except the ending
Acting - Good
I want to give the writing a Good, but I was unhappy with the ending. The directing, aside from the screechy bits of the soundtrack, was very good. I was very impressed by the acting.
Mikey: You have no control over the entire movie… except the very ending. What would you change about the climax to make it better? What’d they do wrong?
For once I actually have an answer to this question! I would have ended the film one scene earlier. After Thomasin laid her head on the table, I would have rolled credits. It would have left it open enough for people who wanted it to be a witch movie to imagine she ran off into the woods to join the witch, and it would have allowed others to wonder whether it was all in her head the whole time.
Mikey: I felt at the end of the movie that there was something of a theme at play, something a little more universal. This girl had been perfectly innocent and good, but eventually, with everybody demanding she was a witch (and okay, the loss of her entire family as well), she finally snapped and said “You want me to be a witch, I’ll be a witch!” Do you think this was a conscious thing? I can see this element at play with teenagers today: “If everybody’s going to assume I’m up to no good, then there’s no point in even trying to do good, I might as well get the benefits of breaking the rules!”
I feel like there was definitely an element of that. By the end, she really didn’t have anything else to lose. She certainly wouldn’t have been welcomed back into the village with open arms. I don’t blame her at all for throwing up her hands and going with the flow.
Mikey: Finally, how would you rate this movie?
I give this movie a 4.5 out of 5. I’m glad we watched it, even if it wasn’t scary at all. I’m still thinking about different possible messages and interpretations now, more than 24 hours later. That’s always a sign of a good movie to me.
Mikey: Only when I was prepping this interview to put up did I notice the big discrepancy on Rotten Tomatoes - 91% critics, 55% audience? That makes perfect sense to me. This movie is definitely more for the critics than for horror fans, and I think the previews were a bundle of lies. Not a scary movie.
But come on back tomorrow anyway, to watch Holidays with us. It's an anthology! And here's a little programming note: we're changing the format starting tomorrow. From now on, there's just one "interview" - a conversation between the two of us. It's so much more fun for us, and a lot easier and more interesting for you to read. Everybody wins this Halloween!
But for now, for my thoughts on this movie, check out Solange's post on SoloRien.wordpress.com.