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The Witch (2015)


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This year's Babadook?

 

The Witch is careful to invite certain ambiguities and avoid others, but the judgment it passes on its characters does not come from on high. Eggers prefers instead to ruminate on how the compulsion to live without sin might grease the wheels for it. (The film’s new-world setting naturally implicates America in the process.) A jaw-droppingly bold gift from God, The Witch is a major horror event on par with recent festival sensations likeKill List and The Babadook. Haunting doesn’t even begin to describe it. 

 

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Renshaw:

 

Give me a few more days to mull over Robert Eggers' masterful debut and I might be ready to call it a flat-out masterpiece of theological horror, instead of just a really good delivery system for bone-jarring dread. 

 

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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  • 6 months later...

Finally, a director whose sensibilities blend Bergman and Tarkovsky with The Blood on Satan's Claw.

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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THE WITCH to Screen at TIFF 2015

 

"The Witch will make its Canadian premiere at next month's TIFF, which runs from September 10th–20th. No official screening date has been revealed yet. The feature film directorial debut from Eggers, The Witch follows a New England family in colonial days who encounter something strange within the woods.

 

It was recently announced that Eggers is set to pen and direct the remake of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, and his work on the critically acclaimed The Witch certainly helped line him up for that gig."

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  • 4 months later...

Coming February 19 (the same day as the "faith-based" movie Risen).

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 4 weeks later...

"Beware, Horror Fans: 'The Witch' Has Just Been Named an Official 'Satanic Experience'"

Quote

In an official statement made by The Satanic Temple, the group says it "is confident [the film] will signal the call-to-arms for a Satanic uprising against the tyrannical vestiges of bigoted superstitions, and will harken a new era of liberation and unfettered inquiry."

Added The Satanic Temple's National Spokesperson Jex Blackmore, "We are empowered by the narrative of 'The Witch': a story of pathological pride, old-world religious paradigms, and an outsider who grabs persecution by the horns." She goes on to praise the film's plot, which "departs from the victim" narrative of witchcraft and stands as a "declaration of feminine independence."

Make of that what you will.

FYI, the Satanic Temple were the folks who tried to get a statue of Baphomet placed in the Oklahoma State Capitol.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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I'm guessing that I won't be able to use that review to attract my wife towards seeing this in the theatres.   ;)

Edited by Attica
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I saw this at TIFF and while I understand where some of that is coming from, I don't think witchcraft is let off the hook. It is something to be genuinely feared in the film, not just a feminine empowerment that is put down by a paranoid patriarchy. That's this film's real achievement: allowing us to enter the world where fear of witches and hell and belief all intermingle in a brutal environment.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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That's good to hear!

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17 hours ago, opus said:

Someone named Jex Blackmore praised the film from departing from the narrative of witchcraft, eh?

"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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  • 2 weeks later...

It's a good piece of film so far as that goes.

For that "satanic temple" to think that this film is accepting of witchcraft, or that it will "harken a new era of liberation and unfettered inquiry", is, well... a. bit. of. a. stretch, to say the least.  

I've got to say that I was saddened by the deeply confused and graceless Christianity that they followed. 

 
 
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Possible Spoilers

 

So, now that I've had a sleep on this I'm coming to see more and more the perspective of the "satanic temple", in that from a certain perspective that one scene could be considered to be freedom and empowerment after an oppressive Christianity.  But to say that it would harken a new era of "unfettered inquiry" is certainly odd seeing as the revolting ways that the witches were portrayed would be a huge leap for any sane person to get over.  

But mind you, some people are deeply confused and troubled,

Spoiler

which I think was kind of the point with the ending.  She was deeply confused, broken, and troubled, and she followed a dark path

.  To think that the film is attempting to endorse witchcraft, or portray it in a positive light at all is crazy talk (IMO), but I'd also be hard pressed finding that this film completely endorsed the Christians (although it did portray them in sympathetic ways at times.)  This is a film where *everybody* is messed up,

Spoiler

and thus partially because of one deeply confused family a person can become even more confused and go towards something darker.

Which is disturbing because it's true, and is beyond the limits of their particular religious experience and that era.

Edited by Attica
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Laveyan satanism is closer to paganism/Wiccan than Luciferianism. I think that is more the new age this movie would be referring to. Interestingly enough paganism and Wiccan and laveyan Satanism share much with the core principles of Christianity. 

At least as I've learned from folks like Damien Echols etc. on Facebook

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

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Yeah.  It's not scary in the typical sense.  But it's more of a Freudian folktale.  It's underlying ideas are pretty scary when one ponders them over.

Edited by Attica
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Spoilers.

I saw this yesterday and thought about it overnight. I think those Satanic Church folks are loony if they think this is an endorsement of witchcraft. Good grief. But I also don't think it works as a feminist empowerment story. That could only work if everything that happens in the film is based on "superstition." But that is clearly not what is happening.

There is a ton of theology in the dialogue early on. Very much "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." The Christianity is largely graceless and oppressive, and yet there were times when I felt like we were really supposed to sympathize with the family. I'm especially thinking of the moment when the father begs Christ to smite him in order to save his children.

Anyway, I liked the look and feel of this but I don't think it ultimately knew what it wanted to say. There's a feminist angle at the end but it rings hollow in light of everything that comes before. What happens at the end did not strike me as "enlightenment" or "release," that's for sure. Movies like this usually blame fear and religion/superstition for oppressing women, but this one only reinforced that the superstition is warranted.

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Pretty much agree with everything you've said Morgan 1098.

Possible spoilers.

I think the main intentions behind this film were explained at the end.  For some reason or the other the writer/director developed an interest in the beliefs, culture, and life of the period and tried to encapsulate it in a film.  To try and encompass their view of the world.  On that front I think that he succeeded.  This was the kind of deeply confused paranoia and lack of grace that eventually lead to the witch hunts, yet these people were still human in their grief, and still sincere in their faith.  We are supposed to care for them at times, which of course makes the scenario all the more troubling.

So, if the filmmaker wanted to say anything, then I expect it was about the confusion and the consequences of this.  At least that's what it spoke to me.

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I wonder if the closing title card -- which tells us that the film is based (sometimes verbatim) on testimonies and journals from the period -- is meant to be pondered in tandem with the fact that a key plot element here is the way people accuse each other of witchcraft even when they are not actually witches. Which is to say, the film apparently takes the testimonies and journals at face value, after showing us that we shouldn't take people's testimonies at face value.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I think the filmmaker didn't believe one bit of those journals and testimonies but thought that they would make an interesting folk tale in order to portray what he saw as their imaginings as real after exploring their paranoia from these imaginings.  He's basically killing two birds with one stone (and actually two kind of contradictory birds), and doing it fairly successfully, I'd think.  It's an interesting film in that it seems to be more or less saying "wow - did they actually believe this stuff?" at the same time as portraying what they actually believed as quite real.

Also.  I'm not actually sure if those two young children weren't connected to the witchcraft in some way.  The film kind of left that ambiguous.

FWIW.  I've read about Christian missionaries in Africa who talk about shaman witch "shapeshifters" etc. to this day.  So, make of that what you will, but belief in this sort of phenomena isn't confined to that culture and era, although I think the response to it found in the film would be.

 

Edited by Attica
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I agree with Attica, I don't think the filmmakers accepted those testimonies as true at all; they just used them as a dramatic source for their story. They only accepted those testimonies at face value as far as acknowledging the testimonies exist and they would make for an incredible story.

Anyway, I thought it was phenomenal. I think I'd go so far as to say it's better than anything currently nominated for Best Picture. Not scary at all, a little creepy toward the end, but the weird mix of tragedy and fantasy created a great atmosphere aided by a superb score, striking color palette, and haunting visual design. The exploration of faith/fundamentalism gone wrong and the way children can misapply religious practices without guidance has a lot in common with Stations of the Cross. I'm inclined to say The Witch was even more effective, but I need to sit on it.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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I didn't mean to suggest that the filmmakers accepted those testimonies as true. Rather, I wondered if the filmmakers were trying to raise doubts about the very narrative we had just watched.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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54 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Rather, I wondered if the filmmakers were trying to raise doubts about the very narrative we had just watched.

 

Spoilers.

 

I think there's a possibility of some of this - with the two children.  There are doubts as to what the narrative was saying about them.

The narrative also intentionally played with what was going on surrounding the disappearance of the baby and the other child.  We're left wondering whether the girls narrative is true (she had lied about the wolf - and we know it was a witch - could it have been her), and whether the narrative given to us about the other child was true (could the girl have enticed him - she was separate from him at the time - and if she was the witch then the whole scenario could have been easily fabricated.)  Then with her interaction with the one child near the stream we are set up to wonder as to what was actually going on with her (this between the two "incidents."

So yes, I think the film is having us question at least aspects of the narrative.  This even happens at the end.  We are left with the understanding (or assumption?) that she was confused, broken, and saw recourse in pursuing the witchery.  But then we are also left with the underlying question that, possible, the narrative has told us that she has had a tinge of witchcraft all along and now she was wanting to give herself over to it in a fuller way.  That she and her two siblings had been dabbling in it, and the witches in the woods knew it.

 

1 hour ago, Evan C said:

Anyway, I thought it was phenomenal. I think I'd go so far as to say it's better than anything currently nominated for Best Picture.

The more I ponder what is going on with this film's themes (both within the film and in this the film's connection to the journals etc), the more I think that it's a darn great film.  

 

My only real concern is that some people will associate what is going on in that family's understandings with less confused Christianity, in a way that they would be put off by less confused Christianity without understanding the differences.  Sure lots of people can tell what is going on with all of this, but we are living in a society, it seems, when some people outside of the fold of faith have increasingly less understanding of what Christian principles actually are, and an increasing desire to gravitate towards that which can give a poor view of Christianity.  I'm not saying that the film is trying to do this, or that we shouldn't appreciate the film.  I'm just saying that I wonder if some people might receive this film entirely wrong... which of course has already happened with that satanic group.

Edited by Attica
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1 hour ago, Evan C said:

I agree with Attica, I don't think the filmmakers accepted those testimonies as true at all; they just used them as a dramatic source for their story. They only accepted those testimonies at face value as far as acknowledging the testimonies exist and they would make for an incredible story.

Anyway, I thought it was phenomenal. I think I'd go so far as to say it's better than anything currently nominated for Best Picture. Not scary at all, a little creepy toward the end, but the weird mix of tragedy and fantasy created a great atmosphere aided by a superb score, striking color palette, and haunting visual design. The exploration of faith/fundamentalism gone wrong and the way children can misapply religious practices without guidance has a lot in common with Stations of the Cross. I'm inclined to say The Witch was even more effective, but I need to sit on it.

I made the same connection with Stations of the Cross, as both explore the consequences of religious fundamentalism on a family dynamic, particularly the teenage girl. I think The Witch is a better film as a whole, but I think what each film was attempting to explore regarding religion is a bit different too. The other film that this called to mind was The White Ribbon, as both films look at the first fruits of a dark cultural turn within the youth of the society.

The closing title card does seem to be important for our interpretation of the events, as well as the term "folk tale" in the opening subtitle. There's something mythic about this particular story, a dark fable of sorts, though it's also presented with a strong historical tone, i.e. things like this really did happen, or may have happened. Sometimes a film's ambiguity feels like a misstep on the filmmakers' part or a deliberate attempt to mess with audiences' heads without having anything really interesting to explore (see Inarritu). When the filmmakers intentionally find the sweet spot for mystery and ambiguity with their ending, as they do here, it's thrilling.

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