So everyone’s talking about how mad The Witch made us, the American moviegoing dum-dum, and it did make me mad, and I am one of those dum-dums, and I am not going to let the conversation turn into “why can’t these audiences desperate for gore and mindless knife-thrusting sit back and enjoy a really period-accurate movie about people saying “thee” to each other and shucking rotted corn for like seven hours?” Not on my fucking watch, pal.
A of all, I’ve seen The White Ribbon and The Babadook, so you’re not going to get me to feel bad about my dumb lizard-brain; I get that not all horror movies are going to be Black Christmas or Mannequin or Martyrs and I don’t even want them to be! What I do want them to have: SOME HORROR.
Here’s what I will concede is boss as hell about The Witch
- the trailer
- the woods
- those creepy stalks of corn in their garden
- that bananas scene where the raven is like pluck-plucking its beak on the mom’s breast and it’s like that super-freaky tableau of THE DEVIL’S BREASTFEEDING, that got me but good
- my friend Jos said afterwards that it wasn’t a raven, it was a crow (or vice versa, my friend Jos says a lot of things and I don’t always pay attention, not because he’s not interesting but because I’m not always interested in learning things, which is really more about me than it is about him) and he said something like “if it’s by itself, it’s a raven; if it’s in a flock, it’s a crow,” by which he meant that one is solitary and one travels in packs but which I took to mean as “a raven by itself will turn into a crow if it meets another raven” which I thought was really fascinating until he gently corrected me, I should really listen to Jos more
- They definitely all acted up a storm, especially the dad and the little dude who played Caleb, they were for sure Acting the hell up and I respect that
- END OF LIST
I don’t know, man, there were some really great moments in the movie but they were punctuated by eight hours of just filming the back of some kid’s head and a lot of dialogue that felt like it was super impressed with itself. “Tither gone the mickle prayn’t, Motherling?” Like, yes, those words are VERY old, okay??
Here’s my real problem: there is about four minutes all told of the blood-milk and the creepy baby-smashing and in between there’s just not a lot going on. Like, at one point the dad says “We have no crops! We’re definitely not going to last the winter,” and it would be great, at that point, to start seeing some consequences of what he just said, but nope, next scene they’re at dinner and we literally never see them go hungry. I WANNA SEE EM GET GAUNT AND WORRIED. Give me some consequences! Like: the horse goes missing and they lose all the animals they trapped, but everyone’s dead before they get a chance to miss them. Let ’em swing before you cut ’em down, The Witch!
I also super appreciated that they had the baby disappear within the first five minutes, rad choice, but then follow it up with some creepy shit! You have a farm full of animals and none of them mysteriously dies! A field full of creepy-ass corn stalks and none of them get rearranged in a freaky-ass pattern or like, I dunno, hides a hornet’s nest in it, only the hornets are more witches. Look, I’m not a writer. I just like slow but steady escalation of the stakes in my scary movies.
I also REFUSE TO BELIEVE what this movie asks of us, which is that after like [checks watch] three weeks in the woods, ten-year-old Caleb (he’s MAYBE eleven, but he’s definitely ten) is already surreptitiously (heh) checking out his older sister’s rack of breasts? That is SO FAST! I feel like you need to establish a longer pattern of isolation before some little dude is like, “Welp, time to gaze upon the breasts of my sister, verily and sirrah.”
Other problems include:
- So the devil at the end asks Thomasin if she wants to “live deliciously” and promises her butter dresses and world travel, but look at what he has actually handed out to the previous witches: a shitty hut alone in the woods and nothing! This is a piece of shit deal, man!
- Also, like, if you are going to try and ramp up the religious paranoia, which, fine, don’t make it immediately clear that the witch is mega-real! There is literally zero ambiguity about witches throughout the movie, just like, yep, fuckin’ witch out there, she wanted one (1) baby but doesn’t even turn up to see her handiwork at the end of the movie when everyone’s goat-murdered and face-split to death? Okay, bub, that’s like missing Witch Graduation
- That little girl was a bitch. I don’t have anything else to say about it. She was just a real bitch.
- Oh, the rabbits were freaky, I’ll give you that. Definitely a freaky rabbit.
- So many close-ups of the back of everyone’s head! AND YET: it never paid off? Everyone’s head was always the same.
- Man, I GET IT, okay, the movie’s very like, “whoa, what if puberty were DANGEROUS, what if young women’s bodies were THREATENING, whoa whoa WHOA,” which is fine and basically what’s kept the genre alive and also kind of what gave us Gingersnaps, but like, it is VERY ON THE NOSE and I can handle ON THE NOSE if you also scare me (and I am not hard to scare! Signs scared me a few times!)
- HAVE THE MOM GO BANANAS AND TRY TO KILL EVERYBODY SOONER. HAVE THE GOAT DO CREEPY THINGS EARLIER. MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN RESEMBLING ANY THING. It’s just super-loud violins and not enough super-loud violence, is what I’m saying now and also what I said last night to my friend Jos outside the theater, and he sort of chuckled but I really wanted a bigger laugh so I’m trying that line out again now, even though I pretty much cribbed it from Roseanne Roseannadanna
In conclusion, don’t let anyone make you feel dumb because you didn’t enjoy a lot of people from East Yorkshire moaning about Calvinism for thirty hours before a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bloodbath. And I love Calvinism! There are great-ass scary movies to be made about religious paranoia (MARTYRS FOR INSTANCE) and also isolation (END OF THE LINE, THE THING) that still know how to effectively raise the stakes and establish a real sense of danger!
P.S. Miss me with that “is it FEMINIST” nonsense? All we know that witches do in this universe is actually smash up babies and make out with twelve-year-olds to death, so, I don’t see how that’s in any way better than Thomasin’s life before, which was mostly about working on a farm, I know we are solidly against Puritans in These Modern Times, but they did not establish that her life before was so shitty that her cool new witch life is going to be fun, it pretty much looked like the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, which I have never once been tempted to attend (N.B. If I am really honest with myself, Jos got off that Michigan Womyn’s Festival line, and I was pretty mad because it was better than my violence/violins line, but he deserves the real joke credit here. Sorry, Jos. You’re right about crows and you were really nice about my stealing your joke, which of course made me feel worse. Okay back to the movie). Like: her parents were PRETTY TENDER with one another before all their children started dying. She misses windows and England, okay, that’s fine, not a super easy motive to identify with, but okay.
P.P.S. SOME REAL MORE MISSED OPPORTUNITIES HERE. Like, these dudes are clearly familiar with all those Goya and Falero paintings and could have set up so many more creepy and demonic-looking tableaux and just entirely didn’t. “Visually, let’s just go with another shot of corn.” Okay. I gotta go kick some air, I’m still mad, guys.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.