Slow burn horror is a bit of an under appreciated piece of film. Often criticized as “boring” or “not scary”, it takes a viewer willing to allow a film to take its time, carefully spreading its dread and unsettling nature evenly throughout the film, rather than up and down like a heart monitor. The Witch is just such a film, a film that by all conventions is a horror film despite having pacing that’s much slower than the average hour and a half spooky stint. Additionally, the film juggles several different ideas in the plot, including religion, colonialism, grief and even puberty. These elements are all blended inconspicuously within the tightly woven narrative to the point that you never forget you’re watching a horror movie. It’s an experience that’s not for everyone, but if you have the time and patience for it, you’ll find this to be one of the most unique horror experiences of the modern era.
The Witch is a 2015 period horror film directed by Robert Eggers, one of the most unique voices working in horror today. This film, followed by his 2019 film The Lighthouse (which I’ve already reviewed here) are known for their intense attention to detail when it comes to recreating the dialect of the period that Eggers is tackling. For his 2015 film, Eggers tells a story set in 1630s New England that follows a family excommunicated from their village and forced to start a new life in the untrampled countryside. As the family’s newborn goes missing and suspicion over a supposed witch in the woods begins to rises, the family starts to grown untrustworthy of one another when creepy occurrences begin to crop up.
As stated before, the dialogue is standout star of the film, carefully crafted to a T to match the colonial colloquialisms you would find in the time period. It’s incredibly impressive to hear this level of detail on display for a horror film, as dialogue and dialect always seems to be an afterthought. It’s so on point that, similar to the The Lighthouse, it can be a bit difficult to fully understand. Luckily, the directing is top notch and the acting can perfectly carry the story even without easy to understand dialogue.
Each of the main characters suffer greatly by the time the credits roll, and their pain is exceptionally amplified to powerhouse performances across the board. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Thomasin, the eldest child of the family who her family grows suspicious of after their newborn disappears. As the family struggles with crops and money, more pressure is put on Thomasin to console her siblings as the parents grow distant. Coupling this with her own development and growth as woman causes her to revolt against the ideologies of her parents, further heightening their suspicions. The position she finds herself in is akin to the Salem witch trials, knowing she is innocent but also knowing that something sinister is indeed happening on the farm. She goes through Hell watching her family decompose and turn on her, leading to a horrifying but “uplifting” end to her story where, in a sense, everyone gets exactly what they asked for.
Ralph Ineson, who portrays the father William, is the one that inadvertently kicks off all the agony the family endures by going against the church and being forced out of their village. He’s a man of faith, and as we see later on, it’s all he really has. He can’t hunt and he can’t trap. The only thing giving him hope is his faith in the Lord, and even now that faith has been nothing but detrimental to his family. To see the weight of his actions slowly crush his spirit is heartbreaking, as he was simply trying to do what he thought was best for his family. Obviously his actions do more harm than good, but his intentions were based on beliefs that slowly begin to unravel as his family continues to be plagued by misfortune.
Religious extremism is at the forefront of the film, as the battle between God and Satan is as much a subtle battle as it is glaringly apparent between the God-fearing settlers and the evil of the witch. Thomasin yearns to regain control over her identity, an identity that was unwilling saddled to her because of her parent’s beliefs. Her desire to achieve independence eventually swings her to the side of the witch, or Satan himself, because that is what he most commonly offers: individuality, power, and the ability to forge one’s own path on their own terms. She is not merely tempted by these offerings, but is heavily indoctrinated in them through the manipulation of her family that drives them to condemn her as a witch. Ergo, she is psychologically manipulated into her ending and makes a fatal choice in order to earn her identity. The lines blur between the two ideologies, as neither one seems to be suitable for Thomasin unless they are forced to become the only option. Even though this film takes place in the 1600s, this type of ideological grooming takes place in our society today. It’s shocking not only because it did happen, but because it does happen.
Horrifying, but gorgeous. That’s the thought that continually crept into my mind while watching this. The presentation of the New England countryside is haunting beautiful, despite having a depressing blue and charcoal grey color palette. Eggers‘ decision to only use natural light gives the film the authentic look it needed to be this effective, only resorting to candles when shooting inside. The shots utilizing the moonlight are the standouts for me, as there is one shot in particular that continues to stick with me. A body in the moonlight, supported by a terrifying musical score that gradually grows into a cacophony of insanity and dread that made my skin crawl.
As stated before, this film is for those who are willing to be patient. It takes its time, never rushing to get to the next scare but always keeping that storm cloud of uneasiness floating above our heads. Atypical is not a word I’d use to describe this film for those looking to sit down for a scary good time. The film will startle you, but not in the ways your used to. It will disturb you, but without being over the top about it. Its a film that doesn’t rely on the mainstay conventions of the genre, which will for sure disappoint people. From what I’ve learned from talking with people about their horror movie preferences, everybody has their own belief of what a horror movie should have. Its hard to say this film will win over those who have their own definitions of horror engrained into their subconscious, but if you’re looking to dip your toes into more atmospheric horror, you’ll most likely find a lot to like here.
Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
Named after that rambunctious black goat from the film, the Black Philip is a dark martini made with vodka and blackberry liquor. The blackberry is both sweet and bitter, and is the first thing you’ll notice in your sip. The vodka isn’t too far behind, however, creeping in to remind you its always there, much like how the evil of the witch is always there despite the family’s best efforts.
But what makes this drink standout is its presentation. For this recipe, I decided to utilize the added element of dry ice to turn this martini into a full blown witch’s cauldron. You’ll only need a tiny chip of it to get this drink going, but don’t forget the dangers of handling dry ice.
Never EVER touch dry ice with your bare hands. Use gloves or tongs to handle the ice, whether it be moving from containment or dropping it in the drink. If you’re using a brick of it like I did, utilize a screwdriver and hammer to chips away small flakes from block. Finally, let the vapor the dry ice produces in the drink run its course. DO NOT drink it while it is still bubbling and smoky. Even though the ice is in the drink, it can still cause severe damage to your throat if ingested. Allow it to fully dissolve before going in for a sip.
Stay safe and enjoy!
- 1 shot of vodka
- 1 shot of blackberry liqueur
- 1/4 shot of blue curaçao
- Lemon twist
- Dry ice
- Add your vodka, blue curaçao, and blackberry liqueur to a shaker with ice and shake.
- Strain your drink into a chilled martini glass.
- Peel a lemon and twist the peel over the glass before dropping it in.
- Using gloves or tongs, add a small piece of dry ice to the drink. (DO NOT DRINK UNTIL THE DRY ICE IS COMPLETELY DISSOLVED AND DRINK IS NO LONGER BUBBLING).