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The Witch (2015)

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I loved this.  Having just been reading Stacy Schiff's account of the 1692 Salem witch trials, I was impressed by how closely Eggers cleaved to the Plymouth settlers' views of the supernatural and their accounts of witchery.  Intentional or not, with all of the recent political efforts to erode the wall of separation between church and state, I think Eggers has crafted a timely parable.  By looking back at the bad old days of American theocracy, I see The Witch as an excellent cautionary tale about the divisive power of religious intolerance and superstition.  Here's my full review:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2016/02/the-witch-superbly-melds-supernatural-and-earthbound-religious-horror/?repeat=w3tc

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12 hours ago, Attica said:

 

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.

I thought the early scenes with the father going over Catechism questions with his son were fascinating. I think the audience was supposed to be horrified when the boy kept talking about how he was conceived in sin, how he was corrupt from birth, but really, those continue to be central tenets of some strains of Christianity and even evangelicalism today. They are taken from Creeds and Confessions that are embraced by any Reformed Church you would visit today, for example.  Same with the question of whether the unbaptized baby was burning in hell. The question of what happens to babies before they profess faith on their own, or before they reach the "age of accountability," is hardly settled in Christian circles.

7 hours ago, Andrew said:

I loved this.  Having just been reading Stacy Schiff's account of the 1692 Salem witch trials, I was impressed by how closely Eggers cleaved to the Plymouth settlers' views of the supernatural and their accounts of witchery.  Intentional or not, with all of the recent political efforts to erode the wall of separation between church and state, I think Eggers has crafted a timely parable.  By looking back at the bad old days of American theocracy, I see The Witch as an excellent cautionary tale about the divisive power of religious intolerance and superstition.  Here's my full review:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2016/02/the-witch-superbly-melds-supernatural-and-earthbound-religious-horror/?repeat=w3tc

I agree that it's a cautionary tale, but I think it falters by making the source of the "superstition" so real and tangible. I guess a modern example would be a film about the dangers of anti-Muslim sentiment and Islamophobia that at the same time focuses on a very real ISIS terrorist group that is operating right under everyone's nose.

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49 minutes ago, morgan1098 said:

those continue to be central tenets of some strains of Christianity and even evangelicalism today. They are taken from Creeds and Confessions that are embraced by any Reformed Church you would visit today, for example.  Same with the question of whether the unbaptized baby was burning in hell. The question of what happens to babies before they profess faith on their own, or before they reach the "age of accountability," is hardly settled in Christian circles.

Yep.  FWIW, this book, touches on research suggesting that with Christian groups who believe that the "age of accountability" is 13 (or is it 12), there's a higher rate of suicide at 12.  It suggests that some kids are killing themselves because they believe that if they do so before the "age of accountability" they can be assured of "getting in."  Some of these influences that were on the people at the time depicted in this film (and before to varying degrees), and that have trickled down some into our time are a huger problem than some realize.  We need to grow in our understandings of God's mercy and grace and come out of some of these influences.  Hopefully for a thoughtful mind this film could help to show how utterly confused, repulsive, and outside of the grace of the Holy Spirit some of this theology can be.  But again, my concern is that some will see it as awful and reject the church at large, or that for others it will remind them of what they have gone through within some Christian circles and they will separate from (or separate further from) the church.  Not that I think the film shouldn't have been made, but that I wonder as to how some people will take it.

 

 

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1 hour ago, morgan1098 said:

I agree that it's a cautionary tale, but I think it falters by making the source of the "superstition" so real and tangible. I guess a modern example would be a film about the dangers of anti-Muslim sentiment and Islamophobia that at the same time focuses on a very real ISIS terrorist group that is operating right under everyone's nose.

I think this is interesting. I'd agree, but I think the film is far more successful. If it were just a superstition, then the film would lose some strength in my book. In his review, my brother said something to the effect that this particular families focus on evil in many ways fuels and begets the very evil they are terrified of; to modify your more contemporary example it would b e film about how anti-Muslim sentiment and Islamophobia are actually a hinderance to stopping the very real threat of groups like ISIS and actually contribute to their popularity and recruitment processes.

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14 minutes ago, Attica said:

Yep.  FWIW, this book, touches on research suggesting that with Christian groups who believe that the "age of accountability" is 13 (or is it 12), there's a higher rate of suicide at 12.  It suggests that some kids are killing themselves because they believe that if they do so before the "age of accountability" they can be assured of "getting in."  Some of these influences that were on the people at the time depicted in this film (and before to varying degrees), and that have trickled down some into our time are a huger problem than some realize.  We need to grow in our understandings of God's mercy and grace and come out of some of these influences.  Hopefully for a thoughtful mind this film could help to show how utterly confused, repulsive, and outside of the grace of the Holy Spirit some of this theology can be.  But again, my concern is that some will see it as awful and reject the church at large, or that for others it will remind them of what they have gone through within some Christian circles and they will separate from (or separate further from) the church.  Not that I think the film shouldn't have been made, but that I wonder as to how some people will take it.

 

 

Spoilers

And yet, as we have already noted, there are places where the film seems sympathetic to the family's beliefs, although not the excesses. What are we to make of the son's death scene? As horrifying as it is, before he breathes his last he seems to experience some kind of beatific vision in which he is embraced by Christ himself. It's almost uncomfortable the way he becomes ecstatic and embraces Christ as a lover (there seems to be a direct tie here with the daughter's reaction in the final scene). And yet he learned from his dad that Christ must be approached in fear and self-loathing. So is he just dreaming or is something real happening? I'm not sure about the answer.

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11 hours ago, Anders said:

If it were just a superstition, then the film would lose some strength in my book. In his review, my brother said something to the effect that this particular families focus on evil in many ways fuels and begets the very evil they are terrified of

Agreed.

 

11 hours ago, morgan1098 said:

And yet, as we have already noted, there are places where the film seems sympathetic to the family's beliefs, although not the excesses. What are we to make of the son's death scene? As horrifying as it is, before he breathes his last he seems to experience some kind of beatific vision in which he is embraced by Christ himself. It's almost uncomfortable the way he becomes ecstatic and embraces Christ as a lover (there seems to be a direct tie here with the daughter's reaction in the final scene). And yet he learned from his dad that Christ must be approached in fear and self-loathing. So is he just dreaming or is something real happening? I'm not sure about the answer.

 

That scene is vague to me now and I don't really remember anything like a beatific vison, but it's probably something really happening.  The family had such little understandings of the truth and this would fit with that by giving us a peak behind the veil and thus showing how confused they were.

I'm curious to know what the writer/director's faith views are.

 

Continuing on from my earlier post.

If I had my way I'd put these books (amongst others) into everyones hands.  The folks in this movie needed some of these understandings.  I'd also hand them this book.

I've touched on this earlier, but it grieves me that some people had, and still do (to some extent), believe some of that stuff.

Edited by Attica

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1 hour ago, Anders said:

I think this is interesting. I'd agree, but I think the film is far more successful. If it were just a superstition, then the film would lose some strength in my book. In his review, my brother said something to the effect that this particular families focus on evil in many ways fuels and begets the very evil they are terrified of; to modify your more contemporary example it would b e film about how anti-Muslim sentiment and Islamophobia are actually a hinderance to stopping the very real threat of groups like ISIS and actually contribute to their popularity and recruitment processes.

Yes, I think I agree. The fact that there is a very real threat (the witch in the woods) adds a layer of complexity that wouldn't be there if everyone was just running around being hysterical about myths that have no grounding in reality.

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10 hours ago, morgan1098 said:

Yes, I think I agree. The fact that there is a very real threat (the witch in the woods) adds a layer of complexity that wouldn't be there if everyone was just running around being hysterical about myths that have no grounding in reality.

It also allows the film to move into some very interesting themes and questions, some of which we've touched on.

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Joel Mayward wrote:
: 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.

Ah, right, I'd forgotten about the opening subtitle!

Incidentally, the director of this film is now in talks to make a movie about Rasputin, so he's got that supernatural church-state collusion thing happening again.

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The Witch returns to 666 theaters (!) today. Call me an April fool, but I actually may see this, provided the local showtimes correspond to my teaching schedule.

Edited by Nathaniel

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I saw it tonight. Still can't decide if I wish it had ended a few scenes earlier than it did (

Spoiler

with Thomasin laying her head on the table). I get why it had to keep going, thematically, but the uncertainty and dread are always the most effective parts of horror movies. When everything is laid out and exposed, some of the power is lost for me. 

 

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10 hours ago, Tyler said:

I saw it tonight. Still can't decide if I wish it had ended a few scenes earlier than it did (

  Hide contents

with Thomasin laying her head on the table). I get why it had to keep going, thematically, but the uncertainty and dread are always the most effective parts of horror movies. When everything is laid out and exposed, some of the power is lost for me. 

 

First time I saw it, I thought that was going to be the last scene.

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Evan C wrote:
: First time I saw it, I thought that was going to be the last scene.

You must have been blissfully unaware of the marketing, then, which relied heavily on teases of the final sequence.

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17 hours ago, Tyler said:

I saw it tonight. Still can't decide if I wish it had ended a few scenes earlier than it did (

  Reveal hidden contents

with Thomasin laying her head on the table). I get why it had to keep going, thematically, but the uncertainty and dread are always the most effective parts of horror movies. When everything is laid out and exposed, some of the power is lost for me. 

 

It probably would have been better if it ended there.  It would have been more artful (arthouse?) and it would have left us wondering what in the hell went on.  As it was, we were given some understanding that probably didn't serve the film, and wasn't really all that scary anyhow.  Also, I thought that the film felt cut off abruptly WITH the extra footage when it might not have felt that way if the film ended when you had mentioned.

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4 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Evan C wrote:
: First time I saw it, I thought that was going to be the last scene.

You must have been blissfully unaware of the marketing, then, which relied heavily on teases of the final sequence.

Yeah, I walked in pretty cold. I had seen the trailer once several months ago, and even then I had closed my eyes and put my fingers in my ears when I worried it was revealing too much, so I didn't remember too much of it.

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Yeah, the final poster is taken from the last sequence. Didn't notice that until after I'd watched the movie, though. I avoided as much info as I could. 

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I still feel like that final scene might somehow want us to think about 

Spoiler

 

the son's death scene earlier in the film. Thomasin's ecstatic reaction at the bonfire seemed to evoke her brother's ecstatic embrace of Christ right before he died.

I'm not sure what that is supposed to mean, though. For me the son's death scene is the most confounding moment of the entire film.

 

 

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On 2/20/2016 at 7:01 PM, morgan1098 said:

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.

 

Maybe that is exactly what the film "wanted to say."

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The Village Voice review comes to a conclusion that I find startling:

Quote

The Witch doesn't quite believe in God. But it absolutely believes in broomsticks, infant-sacrifice, and a shape-shifting dealmaker devil. (It also believes that realism demands audiences see the spilt entrails of the animals killed by that devil.) It's wrong on all these points, as witch stories so often are. But by aspiring to art-house seriousness and fact-sourced legitimacy, it's even more wrong than most.

Methinks this film got under the reviewer's skin. 

I mean, it's a little strange, isn't it, to criticize a horror film for taking witchcraft seriously?

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On July 23, 2016 at 11:43 AM, Overstreet said:

The Village Voice review comes to a conclusion that I find startling:

Methinks this film got under the reviewer's skin. 

I mean, it's a little strange, isn't it, to criticize a horror film for taking witchcraft seriously?

I find it very weird.  But then, I also find it weird that the Salem witch trials are still a little bit of a culture war flashpoint in America.  Liberal secularists seem to see the trials as a politically charged allegory for our times on the evils of a Christian right-wing, while on the other hand some conservative Christians feel the need to so deeply identify with and defend Puritan colonists that they start getting really defensive about witch trials in general.  And then there are the Wiccans, who seem to regard all historical accusations of witchcraft as their own personal property, their own history of oppression, and go out of their way to object to any depiction of an "evil witch" that shows up in the culture.

On the other hand, I think American cinema (and media more generally) has been neglecting American colonial history over the last couple decades, and I find any film which makes as honest an effort as this one to engage with the actual culture and historical record of early America to be incredibly exciting and valuable.

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Finally caught this today. Something tells me it would have been great fun to watch with a frenzied Sundance crowd. Isolated on the small screen, however, it comes across as visually conservative and thematically muddled.

It shudders to life in the last 10 minutes with a genuinely subversive ending (a sort of negative transcendence reminiscent of Ben Wheatley's Kill List), but getting there is a bit of a chore.

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On 10/2/2016 at 6:13 PM, John Drew said:

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, just in time for Halloween.

Just watched this tonight. I need to see it again to formulate any real opinions--too many distractions around--but I think I liked it. I want to watch it again in conversation with "Young Goodman Brown."

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