Movie Review : The VVitch (2016)
How does a movie director scares people in 2016? It's a sneakier question than it seems because fear is provoked through a delicate balance between information and imagination and the former has never been more obscenely available than now. It's tough. It was easier to control and funnel people's emotion when nobody knew shit about anything and relied on religious scripture for guidance. This is more or less the setting of horror movie The VVitch, an elegent creeper written and directed by Robert Eggers, which surfs the line between horror folktale and revisionist tragedy with an underrated sense of style. It does try really hard to scare you, but actually manages to pull off the occasional freaky moment.
The VVitch is the story of a British settler named William (Ralph Ineson) and his family who are promptly banished from their New England plantation due to a disagreement on the interpretation of the new testament. William decides to settle near a secluded forest where his wife soon gives birth to their fifth child Samuel *, who soon mysteriously disappeared under the surveillance of the family's elder daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). That is only the first of the many terrible ordeals to strike the family. Fearing the winter after a catastrophic harvest, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) ventures into the woods to hunt for food and disappears himself in odd circumstances. But young Caleb eventually comes back. He stumbles back to his family's house naked, bloody and delirious and shit pretty much goes downhill for the entire family from there. It gets pret-tay bad.
A modicum of historical perspective is necessary to enjoy the horrors of The VVitch for what they are. The American Conservative's review claimed that the movie was "pervaded by the fear of God," which I believe is a great way to describe it. There is a lot of symbolism going on. William and his family strayed from the herd because of a disagreement on religious interpretation, which is represented here by their goat, Black Philip. Those who watched the movie will argue that the goat isn't only a symbol and you're absolutely right. He's also the mark of William's individualism **, which is a precept of theistic Satanism. Now, this is not scary in itself, but I appreciate Robert Eggers' commitment to settler's logic even if the message rings utterly bizarre in this day and age: don't stray from the herd. Only misery and death await those who do. So yeah, like I said. Historical perspective and shit. That kind of stuff terrified our forefathers.
So, The VVitch is a slow and stern movie that WILL require your patience and collaboration. If you're expecting it to deliver scares on your lap, you're putting yourself on a bullet train to boredom city. The characters themselves are a difficult nut to crack since they're caught between two shitty, inescapable options: either live a shit life or die a horrible death. There is an endearing gracefulness to Robert Eggers' style though. He's a talented storyteller who knows when to allude and when to show, but not explain. The VVitch understands where the line of his own horror lies and never feels gimmicky. I wasn't surprised to learn it was written and directed by Eggers himself. Movies conceptualized by one person only are often cohesive and uncompromising and The VVitch is not different in that regard.
I liked The VVitch. It did not freak me out the way It Follows did earlier this year, but it committed to its vision and craftily avoided most gimmicky pitfalls of supernatural horror. It did not exactly blow me away, but I appreciated the originality and the enthusiasm of it. That said, The VVitch is somewhat of an atmospheric trip that was probably meant to be best enjoyed in theaters which could explain why some of the slow and graceful scares fell flat on my thirty-two inches television on a grey Sunday morning. The VVitch is better than most contemporary mainstream horror movies, it is inspired and committed to its vision, but it didn't quite live up to my lofty expectations of senseless terror. I'm glad I've seen it. I'm going to keep fond memories of it. I doubt it is rewatch material, though. Good, smart movie. Not a timeless horror classic.
* No, I'm not going to credit the newborn. But know he is played by twins.
** Or its cause? Both explanations are equally valid, I believe.