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 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|
|the VVitch by Adam Juresko|
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|
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|
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