Movie review: 'The Witch'
You shall have to forgive me; this is not a very furry movie. It may not be a furry movie at all, but to truly come down one way or another, I'd have to spoil things. However, one does not often have the opportunity to review a movie endorsed by the Satanic Temple; in fact, this is the first opportunity any reviewer ever has had. If you're the kind of person who likes to take movie recommendations from the Satanic Temple, well, there you go. Stephen King liked it too.
So, why am I reviewing this movie for Flayrah (I mean, other than I want to, and I can)? Well, this is one of those horror movies where you can't know for sure if what you're seeing is real, or a vision, a dream, or a hallucination. Two small children assure us they talk to a goat; this goat is named Black Phillip. When not playing imaginary friend to all children (or is it the witch in the wood's familiar pretending to be playing imaginary friend to all children?), he enjoys Tweeting cute goat videos, vintage furry art, vague threats at the Pope and, of course, humblebrags. Not in the movie, though (that would be quite a twist), but as part of the bizarre viral marketing employed by cult distributor A24 (see also, Satanic Temple endorsement). Don't laugh, the goat has more followers than we do.
Oh, also there's a bunny. I should probably mention that.
The movie subtitle says this is a New England folktale; a title card at the end of the film explains that it isn't adapted from just one folktale, or for that matter, just folktales. The card explains that some of what you've just seen is based on accounts, even court documents, of cases of witchcraft. This is not to say that the movie is based on true events; there may have been many trials against witchcraft in colonial times, but they are not generally considered viable investigations into the supernatural today. The point is not that this is what really happened; the point is this what people say happened. Those are two very different things.
The movie does, sort of, have a plot, but it doesn't feel like a movie plot. Perhaps if I wanted to, I could break it down scene by scene, seeing where each individual plot beat on the traditional three act structure of a screenplay fell. But while it didn't drag (a telltale sign that there probably was a bit more structure underneath than the movie let on), it felt remarkably like a folktale. Or a court transcript. The events unfold. Things happen.
The movie starts with a man on trial for heresy in some Puritan village; he is being exiled, along with his family, because he disagrees with the elders of the village on some minute point of Gospel (the movie never really brings up what that point is; it doesn't matter). Jump forward in time, and that family now has a farm going through a very rough time. Crops are blighted, and praying isn't helping much. Then, an innocent game of peekaboo goes awry, and the youngest child, a tiny baby, mysteriously vanishes. A family on the verge of breaking down, does.
The supernatural elements are downplayed, and, as I said, it's unclear whether there even are. It's quite possible nothing happens at all. A gun dangerously misfires when aimed at a large, dark furred rabbit. Was it an accident? Or witchcraft? Milking goats, a dog and a horse all freak out when it shows up again later. Are they freaking out because of the rabbit, or just, you know, around it?
As a horror movie, it's a slow burn. There is some graphic violence, but it isn't a "gorefest." For the average movie-goer, looking for a "jump" movie, this isn't it either.
It mines possibly the richest vein of the American gothic tradition (it features similar themes to Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Browne"); I like to think of it as a possible prequel to Rob Zombie's Lords of Salem (now we know "why the goat?"). I would recommend it mainly to genre fans; unfortunately, horror genre fans. Furry fans, not so much.