Sunday, April 24, 2016

The ending of The VVitch is one of the most stunning things you'll ever see

By Sati. Sunday, April 24, 2016 , , , , , , , , ,

I have been eagerly waiting for the movie since I first heard about it last year when the first news and rumors from Sundance started pouring in. I love the horror genre and movies about witches and there is really not enough of the latter. We have one half decent show on TV (Salem) and time and time again someone does new spin on The Crucible. But that's it. There are generic money grabbing uninspired spins on the witches, portrayals of modern witches which are incredibly insulting (how Wiccans were portrayed in season 4 of True Blood) or interesting concepts trapped in a meddled mess (AHS: Coven). So when I heard that there is honest to God (well...) good story out there about witches set in the most fascinating time you can possibly set a story like that in I couldn't wait.

From the cinematic point of view, one which proved that there is still a very good reason why we don't see thought provoking, unique horror movies, The VVitch is a difficult movie. I am no native English speaker but I do read a great deal in English so the fact that the film was spoken in the old English wasn't an issue for me. I read complaints that it was an issue for the audience. Add to the language barrier, there is the issue of the film being very raw and uncompromising, truly shocking in how far it goes at times (the baby scene) and one that doesn't make anything easy for its audience.

Phillip’s Ride by Bill Crisafi
The film has beautiful cinematography and truly spectacular, spine-chilling music. This is one of those scores that will become iconic along with the film - the deranged chants of the witches and high pitched violins are actually horrific on their own even without surreal accompanying images. But what really makes the movie stand out are very strong performances of everyone involved particularly new comer Anya Taylor-Joy who plays the eldest daughter in the family, Thomasin.

The first thing that I noticed while watching the film is that had it been made in black and white and someone watching it wasn't familiar with any of the actors or the fact it's a recent release, they could easily confuse it for one of Bergman's films. The film is extremely claustrophobic, set in quite a confined space - even though the family's cabin is surrounded by wilderness, their rigid beliefs and existence makes them feel trapped. Once Thomasin loses Sam we do not see the scene where she comes home and tells her parents that Sam is gone. No, you immediately go to perhaps even days after when Thomasin is wrecked with guilt, her mother is walling and praying for her son back and the father already accepted the loss.The film is very precise and selective in what the audience is privy to and what is left for us to imagine - we can easily imagine Thomasin's remorseful confession that Sam is gone and the parents' despair. It's the unusual that Eggers decides to show us.

Witches' Flight by Francisco Goya
This is because the film is not interested with the exploration of losing a child. It's main point, one that only strays thematically in one point - the movie's powerful ending - is how suspicion and malice can grow even in such a seemingly pure environment as this religious family. Here there are so pious, devoted to each other, building one community. Yet in the face of a loss that malice between them starts growing and the most horrifying thing is that the witch in the woods is simply something that allows you and them to see it - she is merely a way for the child to be gone, the event that isn't the seed of malice, but merely the event that nourishes it enough to sprout. Because that seed is in all of them. Thomasin's mother is suspicious of her and quick to jump to conclusion that her daughter is a witch. Thomasin's father is weak and resorts to lie rather than try to build a united front. Thomasin herself is jealous of the twins who get to play all day while she has to do the chores.Caleb throws lustful looks at his sister. The only innocent ones are the children but perhaps it is only because they haven't been around other tainted creatures enough for evil to stain them too.

the VVitch by Adam Juresko
Yet there is a very big difference between two evils shown in The VVitch - the family is actually worse than the witch and the Devil who guides her. Because the family thinks they are good and kind while they repeatedly turn their back on Thomasin who has done nothing wrong.

It's interesting that Eggers takes this route in the movie. The VVitch plays in large type like an archetypal horror film - we have a virginal heroine who is on her own given that her family thinks she is against them and is the source of the evil. But in its climax The VVitch offers interesting perspective - in joining the evil Thomasin separates  herself from the family and the oppression they represented, the restraints and rigid rules. In its climax that makes the movie (and to those who really didn't get it broke the movie) The VVitch becomes the manifest for freedom with truly disturbing, sinister and almost dangerous undertones.

The VVitch has been called a Satanic masterpiece and it's not difficult to see why. Thomasin finds her liberation in the act of selling her soul to the Devil that provides her with powers she couldn't even dream of. We see her smiling and reaching ecstasy as she floats above the ground. Whatever happens later, whatever heinous acts she will have to commit, whatever will happen to her its beside the point - Eggers clearly paints Thomasin's decision as something we should not only understand but marvel at in the final awe-striking shots of the movie. It is not her family who followed God that ascended to literal haven, it is her, the one who signed the Devil's book. I have not seen a better depiction of ecstasy and freedom since Nina danced her coda in Black Swan.

To live deliciously by Jeremy Hush
What is also fascinating here is the power of Thomasin's youth in the view of her choice. That is something where the film reflects the real life in an eerie way - Thomasin is a young, impressionable, inexperienced woman. She signs the book, but would she sign it if she was older? There is even a scene with her mother being offered to join the Coven but she doesn't do it. Evil strives on those who are lonely and those who are young and the final scene of The VVitch powerfully shows that it has the power to change the individual forever.

There were some who took an issue with the film's ending suggesting that this is a very dangerous route - that Eggers somehow shows that the Puritans were right in holding their barbaric trials because the witches indeed existed. The question whether supernatural exist is beside the point, just as whether the women in Salem and other places the witches trials were held were indeed witches. What the actions committed against those accused of witchcraft were in XVII century was a perversion of justice which employed cruel, one sided methods and had nothing to do with actual justice. It doesn't matter what the movie made 400 years later will suggest or what the truth was. People died based on whether their bodies floated on water or drowned after they were tied up. Devil, God, magic or unholy deals have nothing to do with judging what happened there.

”Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” by Kjersti Foret
The key to understanding the last moments of the movie lies in understanding that in wickedly unholy fate of Thomasin lies a very clever way of paying homage to the genre and putting a subtle and very effective twist on it. You are supposed to be happy for Thomasin who prevails but at the same time she does so not by defeating evil but joining it. Dozens of horror movies ended with the final girl joining the evil (eg. Rosemary's Baby) and you were always disturbed and shocked. But not this time. This time thanks to Eggers showing us how awful the life of Thomasin was, you're happy for the protagonist.

Thomasin was living a rigid, joyless life surrounded by people who were wasting their lives trying to please the almighty, by prayers and pleading that got them nowhere. And here - while she will no doubt have to follow the Devil - she will get joy out of her life. She lost the soul in the process but how much is our soul really worth? Does it truly have any worth when we see people doing what they are doing to each other? Thomasin's family turned one each other one by one with lies, accusations and violence. And their Almighty God never shows up to pluck them up from the Devil's trap. Perhaps because in their rigidness and by not allowing themselves joy they were themselves heretics.

I read in few reviews how it's annoying that there is never any divine intervention in those movies. That all there is just the evil haunting all those pious people. But what if this is the truth - what if there is evil out there but there is no good? What if it's the people who are supposed to balance the evil with their deeds and actions?

The film is also noteworthy for it deep roots in folklore - there are so many incredible myths, legends and stories out there in practically every corner of the world, yet the world of cinema keep neglecting those. The VVitch includes several lesser known elements - like flying ointment and egortism - and some very well known - depicting the Devil as a goat and the evil assuming many different forms. One can only hope that with the massive success of The Witcher games and upcoming American Gods adaptation we will see pop culture discovering the wonderful and fascinating world of folklore more often.

Like all the best movies The VVitch leaves you wondering - what happened to the twins? Was Caleb being taken to God or to the Devil? And given the film's often Thomasin-point of view narrative (often times we know what she knows) it's all left to the viewer's imagination.

But we all know she will live deliciously.
The VVitch: A New-England Folktale
(2015, 92 mins), 91/100
Plot: A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
Director: Robert Eggers
Writer: Robert Eggers
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

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20 comments:

  1. Great post! I love what you brought up about Bergman, I didn't think of that while watching that, but in retrospect you're absolutely right. It could pass off as one if it was in black and white. I really liked that the ending of this film "went there" so to speak. It had issues with pacing but the pay off was well worth it.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah I was watching it and thought this is seriously raw, old-school filmmaking. Very impressive movie.

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  2. It's so interesting that you had such a great experience watching this movie...I really didn't get on with it at all and almost fell asleep, so I loved reading a different perspective on it. I found the ending to be a bit silly, but by the sounds of things perhaps I just didn't "get it" if that makes sense!

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    1. Well it kinda reverts the cliche horror trope which I adored...I know a lot of people had issues with the movie, some of them because of the audience they saw it with so a lot of people didn't particularly like the film.

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  3. Quite the compelling read, Sati. Honestly not even sure how I feel about the film looking back, but I really loved your review. I didn't approach it nearly the same way you did, but had I, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more (outside of the surface level things I tend to dwell on).

    I don't know if Thomasin ends up happy with her decision, but she couldn't have been less happier than she was with her family, I suppose. It's an interesting discussion, though. And one I'd be ready to have...if I ever see this one again.

    (which I won't)

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    1. Thank you!

      Just don't rewatch it with your kid :) No but seriously, I think it is worth revisiting!

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  4. Gosh, what a fabulous post! I couldn't get enough of this film, I just loved how daring it was. The fact that Eggers actually went there with that ending is jawdropping. One of the best endings in recent memory.

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    1. Thank you! I just adored that ending, such an amazing scene

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  5. "But we all know she will live deliciously." YESSSS!!!!!

    Great, great post. I was having severe writers block when I was supposed to review this; you summarized everything up perfectly.

    What I wanted to write about was how STUPID my audience was...basically boo-ing at the end of the film, because they were too ignorant/closed minded/not delicious enough to grasp the ending. I think they were waiting for some monster pop out or something. It really frustrated me that the majority didn't grasp the big picture.

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    1. Thank you so much! So glad you also enjoyed the movie, so sorry the audience was shitty I read it was the case with a lot of people

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    2. I saw it three times in theaters and I always heard people saying "that was the worst movie" afterwards. But i bet you anything they'll still think about it on occasion unlike other stuff that they don't have a problem with.

      But I personally loved it all three times and think the ending delicious. Not because it's Satanic but because religion is so often oppressive.

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    3. Wow three times! It wasn't even in theaters here yet and I had to experience it on the small screen :(

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  6. This is a great review. I love how much you dig into, and expertly explain, the witch folklore. This review made me like The Witch even more. Great work!

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    1. Thank you so much! So glad you liked the movie!

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  7. Wonderful review and analysis! I loved this movie and thought it was quite incredible. The ending was beautiful and wild and mystical. It felt like the perfect cap on the film to me.

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    1. Thank you! I'm so glad so many people love this film in blogosphere

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  8. What a gorgeous, brilliant post, Margaret. I love everything about it.

    I finally saw it this film last week, and I was enthralled with it. I found the ending both disturbing and liberating, and I loved that ambiguity.

    And the final scene with the circle of witches was both creepy and unsettling and beautiful. I loved the way after the muted watercolor-like tones I'd seen throughout most of the film, the scene was warm and vibrant and full of light and color.

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  9. I had to bookmark this post cos I hadn't seen the movie since last year. I just watched it yesterday, and wow, what a thought-provoking post sati! I really like your interpretation... you certainly put some thought into it... I would never have come to conclusions that you did, but after seeing the movie and reading this... I agree with you. In fact now I want to watch it a third time with what you've written in mind.

    Rant over :) I'm glad you liked this as much as you were expecting to. I too had been looking forward to it for a long time

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  10. I just saw the film. The final image was haunting. I woke up in the early hours and searched for it, finding the animated gif on your site. Wow.

    Great review! I like the point that the young are especially vulnerable to the temptation of "seeing the world," something they desperately want to do...and the disillusionment of the old acts to protect them from this kind of error. As Thomasin floated to the treetops, I reflected that she'd soon be applying a homemade mortle-and-pestle to babies like her brother. Shudder...the idea that what happened to her is any kind of victory or "liberation" doesn't work for me.

    Another idea that resonated with me is that the excessively pure in intention actually create their demons. In a different kind of magic, I can imagine the feverishly pious prayers uttered morning and night do more to create wells of darkness in the adjoining wilderness than anything else. The slow zooms on the faces of rabbits illustrate the kind of feedback loop that occurs: I know, and I know that you know I know. And I know that....

    The movie very effectively channels the fear of unbridled feminine power. I wonder if Wilderness is essentially feminine. And the colonial proximity to Wilderness, her delights and traps, helped bring about a claustrophobic and essentially male hysteria focused on control. In the eyes of young women, they felt newly engulfed by the forest of bone and insanity that surrounded them.

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  11. Great in-depth review - I agree that witches have been sidelined. I really enjoyed Coven even with all the hate it got. I doubt I will see this though as I tend to stay away from horror (too scared).

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