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Review Double Feature: “Halloween” (1978) & “Halloween” (2018)

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Written by Debra Hill and John Carpenter and directed by Carpenter, “Halloween” is a cinematic pillar of the Horror genre and typically recognized as the first film in what would become the Slasher sub-genre that would dominate horror films over the next decade. Since there’s a new sequel out now that ties itself so directly to the DNA of the original haunting film, I figured now would be as good a time as any to squeeze in a quick recap of the first night he came home.

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Admittedly, there’s not much more I can add to the long gestating conversation surrounding the original “Halloween”. It’s a brilliantly simple premise executed with precision and a deft guiding hand with Carpenter at the wheel. Michael Myers instantly became iconic and inspired hundreds, if not more, of homages and send-ups from across the country and the world over time. The tale of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the first “final girl”, is one buried in anxiety and nightmarish fear. The film ingrains in the audience a slow burning sensation of being watched, pursued, and hunted by the shape of evil in human form. Carpenter’s cinematography, sound design, and score all heavily add to the thick atmosphere that permeates the frame.

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The two performances that ground the film, while simultaneously elevating it, are that of Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie and Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis. In a somewhat ironic event Curtis imbued Strode with enough character and personality that she escaped what would become the tropes of becoming what her character inspired in so many slasher horror genre films over the next twenty years. Maybe she was more memorable because she was one of the first of her kind in cinema, but I like to think there’s more to it than that. The addition of Jamie Lee Curtis to the cast also brought a bit of film royalty to the production as her mother was Janet Leigh, most well known for her starring role as Marion Crane in “Psycho” eighteen years prior. Pleasence himself was an English actor with a lengthy and prestigious career, he was the original Blofeld in the James Bond films after all. Much like “Star Wars” casting several well known prolific English actors in Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing in their first film, “Halloween” benefits greatly from his contributions. As Dr. Loomis, Pleasence is mostly cornered into exposition and giving dire warnings about the threat of Michael Myers, but damn, he does it with a serious yet tempered skill. His concern of the potential threat really gives us pause the next time Myers appears onscreen.

Final Score: 1,978 carved pumpkins

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Written by Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, and David Gordon Green, and directed by Green, “Halloween” sets itself up as the direct sequel to Carpenter’s initial haunt with The Shape. Getting Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle to reprise their roles as Laurie Strode and Michael Myers was the absolute core of this film, if this hadn’t happened- this sequel would plainly not exist in any serious fashion. The seven original sequels and two remakes by Rob Zombie in the forty year interim have been completely disregarded and cast aside by this latest film in the seemingly never-ending franchise. Gone are the explanations and reasoning behind why Michael Myers does what he does. He is no longer the brother to Laurie, he isn’t a cursed soul, no Celtic mysticism, and Laurie isn’t dead either. This film was an attempt to return to the simple and powerful nature of that first film and I think it captures that spirit fairly well. It’s probably the best of everything that came after Carpenter’s original film.

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This isn’t to say there aren’t some weak links here though. Some characters exist only to literally move the plot along at times, and some won’t like the twist that takes place somewhere near the beginning of the third act (no spoilers here), and although I’ve heard that many had issues with the humor in the film- most of it worked for me. I don’t want to over-explain this film because it’s simplicity keeps things moving at a relatively quick pace and going into too many details would be a bit of a disservice, on my part. What I can say is that when the movie is firing on all cylinders, it works magnificently. It’s raw, unnerving, and brutal. The score, once again crafted by John Carpenter with some help from his son as well, is insanely effective here. There are flashes and rhythms of the original score with the iconic theme but it’s never over utilized. Jamie Lee Curtis is the framework of the film- her dedicated performance ties everything together with realistic portrayals of decades of anxiety and traumatic paranoia. She’s effectively crafted a layered person under all the nightmare fueled preparation that Laurie’s been up to these forty years. Nick Castle returning as Myers was the other necessary pillar of the film, and while this may be a character without a voice- his physicality speaks volumes. He made the horror icon a terror again. If you haven’t seen the new “Halloween” yet, this is the perfect weekend to give it a shot- especially if you’re a fan of the original film as the filmmakers themselves were and they’ve thrown in plenty of visual throwbacks to that first Slasher film. Happy Halloween everyone!

Final Score: 2,018 Bloodied knives

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Review: Bad times at the El Royale

Written and directed by Drew Goddard, “Bad times at the El Royale” is a thriller set at the El Royale, a hotel that straddles the state lines between California and Nevada, while housing a number of guests with pasts as mysterious as the hotel itself. It’s a shame this film didn’t find its audience at the box office, it grossed only a pittance over seven million during its opening weekend, because I loved this film. The cast is the single greatest asset of the film, but the writing, cinematography, and twisty turns that the plot takes are also incredibly well executed. Much like Quentin Tarantino in the compartmentalization of the story beats with reveals and flashbacks, not to mention some classy stylistic choices, Goddard perfectly poises the seven strangers that collide into each other’s lives that day at the past-its-prime establishment. Each character has a past that clearly identifies their motivations and intent- but the film strings along it’s secrets at the perfect pace to keep the audience on edge and curious as to what the hell is happening at any interval.

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Set in the late 1960’s, the film opens with motown R&B singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) and Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) making small talk on their way into the hotel. Upon crossing the threshold they find an empty lobby, with the exception of fast-talking vacuum salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) searching the cupboards for coffee. Eventually the young and anxious concierge Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) is successfully summoned and begins to dole out room keys before the last guest, Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), arrives abruptly- with a hearty nonchalant attitude.

Once everyone is introduced and acquainted the film is split into vignettes concerning each room and its tenants. Every character has their own goals throughout the film and as each is unveiled the timeline of overlapping events becomes clearer. The standout performances of the cast were Jeff Bridges as Father Flynn and Cynthia Erivo’s Darlene Sweet. Erivo was a breakout talent here with heart and a crystalline wit about her- she won’t suffer any fools, not anymore. Bridges’ tragic Flynn has more to his tale then he lets on, but then again every character involved does. Chris Hemsworth’s Billy Lee steals the show once he enters the frame, though he isn’t present until the third act is underway. A self absorbed cult leader channeling the likes of Jim Jones and Charles Manson, Billy Lee’s appearance is due to the actions of Ruth (Cailee Spaeny), a younger woman in her late teens seemingly obsessed with the cultist, who also appears to be kidnapped by the ever cynical Emily.

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I don’t want to dive too deep into the plot details, mainly because I believe that this is one of those films that’s better with less information going into the movie, but also because there’s a lot to unpack with each new character’s introduction and all of the secrecy that accompanies them. If you enjoy a good mystery based in the world of a crime thriller, you’ll probably enjoy your time with this film. This is the kind of movie that I tend to gravitate towards, but not everyone will appreciate the slow burn approach to this tale either. At roughly two and a half hours, this film is a bit beefier than most concerning runtime- but I personally thought the pacing and intrigue was executed well enough to never lose interest. I can only speak to my own experience though, as I’ve heard the runtime negatively effected some viewers opinions.

Final Score: Seven strangers meet under serendipitous circumstances

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Review: Mandy (2018)

Written by Aaron Stewart-Ahn and Panos Cosmatos, and directed by Cosmatos, “Mandy” is a revenge movie drenched in cosmic horror. Starring in the lead is well documented cinematic mad man Nicolas Cage as Red Miller, a simple logger and heavy metal admirer living deep in the forested Shadow Mountains in 1983 with his fantasy artist lover Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). Together they lead a quiet, small, life in their cabin watching late night movies or burying their noses in pulpy fantasy paperbacks. Thus it isn’t long before a chaotic evil enters their lives, perhaps sensing the coming doom Red articulates this aloud one night mumbling, “Sometimes I wonder if we should leave this place..

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Enter the Children of the new Dawn. Led by the fanatically deranged Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), the hippy zealots happen to pass Mandy on her walk to work one day and after Jeremiah eyes her, he decides that she’s his. He gives several monologues that are typical of a cult leader, because he is “special”– only Jeremiah can be the conduit between man and gods, who have told him that everything on the earthly plane belongs to him for his servitude. So, he sends out a few followers to summon demons, or inter-dimensional cenobites (or whatever you’d like to call them), riding black motorcycles, adorned in costumes with leather spikes, and leaking some disgusting fluid. After the metal bikers from another dimension arrive, Jeremiah and his zealots overpower Red and Mandy in a home invasion. Jeremiah’s followers heavily drug Mandy and bring her to Jeremiah where upon hearing his musings and master plan, she denies him with cackling laughter. A few scenes later after some intense motivation building for Red, he’s finally given the reigns of the story and we follow him on his journey of vengeance into madness.

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The rest of the film is fairly straightforward from this point on, with things getting progressively stranger the closer Red gets to exacting his revenge on Jeremiah. So this film, I have to say, probably has the most unique vision I’ve seen all year (Admittedly I haven’t seen some summer flicks like “Sorry to Bother you” and “Black Klansman” yet). This is the first film I’ve seen from Panos Cosmatos, but his directorial style reminded me most of a Heavy Metal and Fantasy spin on David Lynch’s slow moving and painterly methodology. This film is far more art-house than the marketing indicates, and thus those seeking an action filled thriller could be greatly disappointed. This is a film that demands your patience, and it isn’t necessarily going to hold your hand through the bog of heavy metal insanity. Those willing to grant the film a watch will get some of the ridiculously violent tone that the trailers and marketing hinted at, just at a much slower pace, and far less of it than may be expected. This is a slow, brooding, film that doesn’t sacrifice vision for marketability- which is admirable in today’s world of cinema.

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I think the two most salient aspects of the film are the color palette and the score, or at least those are the two most overwhelming senses. After all, what is film but light and sound? The film is awash in bellowing reds, deep shimmering blues, and flashes of brilliant greens. The score itself is a major aspect of the mood of the film. The near constant grumble of heavy chords echo Red’s boiling rage and primal instincts as his quest for vengeance evolves throughout the story. This film is as close as you could get to walking into a Heavy Metal album cover art and milling around the disparate wastelands and otherworldly landscapes. There may be hundreds of revenge flicks out there, but I assure you- there are none quite like “Mandy”.

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Final Score: There’s only 1 Cheddar Goblin!

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Old School Review: I live in Fear (1955)

Caution: There will be spoilers..

Written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, “I Live in Fear” is the legendary filmmaker’s most direct attempt at fictionalizing the very real social anxieties sweeping Japan post World War Two. The film opens on an unfolding case being discussed in family court. Kiichi Nakajima (Toshiro Mifune) is a successful, elder, Japanese industrialist that has been taken to court by his family for the unreasonable use of his funds to secure land in Brazil, the only place on earth Mr. Nakajima believes to be safe from Nuclear Annihilation. He wishes to purchase a farm in the South American country and to bring his family with him- to which the whole family objects. Granted, most of the family doesn’t want to uproot their entire lives just to assuage the fears of Kiichi, but as the film progresses we get the impression that the family would have gone on without acknowledging the man’s paranoia and mental health IF he hadn’t begun to use his wealth, their inheritance, to fund several projects that he thought would protect his loved ones from an irradiated doom.

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After much deliberation the family court approves the family’s petition, that Mr. Nakajima’s actions and intentions deem him mentally unfit. Naturally he appeals the notion and as the court machinations move forward Mr. Nakajima only becomes more frenzied with each passing hour. As he unravels, he fails to understand why everyone around him can be so calm when the very fact that the H bomb exists at all should concern every living soul with grave danger. One of the more powerful scenes in the film, in my opinion, happens during a visit to one of his mistresses (the film doesn’t shy away from the fact that our lead isn’t perfect) as he mistakes lightning and thunder to be another bomb dropping- he dives for his youngest son and startles him awake, at which point the mistress snatches her child up and looks at Kiichi with fearful eyes. Eventually he is so distraught by a son-in-law’s suggestion that even Brazil wouldn’t be safe from the fallout of nuclear war, that Kiichi takes drastic measures and sets the family foundry ablaze. The foundry was the source of the family’s wealth- which Kiichi eventually only saw as a deterrent to moving to safety.

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Throughout the film Kurosawa wisely placed Takashi Shimura as the moral center, and therefore soul of the film, in Dr. Harada. In the role as a dentist that’s been accepted by the local community to be on the board of the family court, Dr. Harada is often the one individual to question the group’s assumptions and point out when Mr. Nakajima makes logical points of contention. After Shimura’s spellbinding performance in Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” in 1952, it was a cinematic pleasure seeing two of Kurosawa’s most lauded performers onscreen together. Granted, I’m watching Kurosawa’s films out of order, so this may not be as momentous as it felt to me at the time. The two actors play off of each other brilliantly, with Shimura’s reserved and quiet performance set against the rigidity and barely contained anger of Mifune’s Kiichi- it’s an excellent pairing of personalities.

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Kurosawa presents an argument in the film, which party is the sane one? Mr. Nakajima, who’s trying to save lives and avoid nuclear disintegration? Or the World around him that neglects his worries as trivial and misguided. Sirens wail in the background throughout the film and most of the characters have a sort of laissez-faire attitude about the whole idea of nuclear annihilation. Several even acknowledge that while Mr. Nakajima had gone too far- they couldn’t accurately articulate why he should be deemed mentally incompetent. The film’s final scene encapsulates this dichotomy visually with Mr. Nakajima institutionalized in a psychiatric ward. Dr. Harada leaves the institution, having just witnessed a man broken by paranoia, just as Nakajima’s daughter enters and both are anchored in a mourning and uneasiness as they each enter a world that harbors curious intent.

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In reading what others have said about this film I came across the perfect summary of where the film’s head-space lives. In an article from Slate in 2008, by Fred Kaplan, he extrapolates that if someone were to make a similar film on the American psyche post 9/11 “[they] might cover and somehow dramatize: the line between obsession and obliviousness, between whimpering terror and blithe denial; the undeterminable toll on our ‘unconscious minds’ from embracing either course; and the question of whether it’s possible to lead a fully conscious, sane life on some road in between“. All of which is crafted here exquisitely by Akira Kurosawa and his crew. This tragedy is worth a watch, if only to recognize how the outcomes of war can affect a society and it’s people.

 

Final Score: Two minutes, ’til midnight

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Old School Review: Wings of Desire (1987)

Caution: This movie is over thirty years old- there will be spoilers!

Written by Peter Handke and Wim Wenders and directed by Wenders, “Wings of Desire” is a German arthouse fantasy film about two angels stationed in Berlin that observe the inner thoughts and outer actions of the many citizens they choose to monitor at any given moment. The film can be understood in two parts in my opinion. The first half of the film consists of an introduction to how the angels go about their unending time, who they choose to listen to, and who to comfort in small and almost unnoticeable ways. This half illuminates the musings of the soul that these angelic figures eavesdrop on as they witness, observe, and record the thoughts and feelings of thousands in Berlin. The second half comes when Damiel (Bruno Ganz) wanders upon a circus and begins to fall in love with the female trapeze artist Marion (Solveig Dommartin). Afterwards Damiel,  whose been observing humanity for thousands of years now, becomes enraptured by the idea of leaving immortality behind for the bittersweet, romantic, and melancholic nature of life. He discusses this idea at length with his angelic counterpart Cassiel (Otto Sander), who seems to dismiss his friend’s fascination with the possibility of living a life with risk in it.

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What I love most about this film is it’s balance between the solemn deadpan nature of the Angels’ existence (shown exclusively in black and white) set against the multifaceted and blended world of the living- which is shot in waves of color. This is one of those films that you admittedly have to be in the right mood to digest. It’s more about absorbing the moving imagery and pondering the larger than life questions and ambiguities of life rather than a focused narrative, though there is a through-line of thought taking place. Poetic in nature and more interested in what people aren’t saying, “Wings of desire” shows an angel that is more concerned with what makes a life worth living rather than his own heavenly duties. Or to put it more bluntly, he’s gotten bored and uninterested in the angelic listening gig after a few thousand years. Marion triggers something in him, something that ultimately drives him to give it all up to be with her, to aide her in navigating her own sadness and to be a more present guardian.

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In some light prep for this review, another reviewer referenced this film as being a “modern fairy tale about the nature of being alive” and I couldn’t agree more. This comes mostly from what we hear, alongside the angels, from the minds of everyday people. One particularly fascinating character was that of Homer (Curt Bois), an elderly author or historian of some fashion. His comparisons with the Berlin of old, with the empty spaces or new buildings that have replaced the locations of memory are enlightening. Back in the library, with Cassiel peering over his shoulder listening and watching, Homer wonders about the nature of war and peace and the obsession that is paired with War- but not peace, “My heroes are no longer the warriors and kings.. but the things of peace, one equal to the other. The drying onions equal to the tree trunk crossing the marsh. But no one has so far succeeded in singing an epic of peace. What is wrong with peace that its inspiration doesn’t endure.. and that its story is hardly told?” Homer considers himself mankind’s storyteller, though this idea as expressed by the actor suggests that the self appointed title goes hand in hand with his humility- not pride. As this old man reflects on life and it’s mysteries in the library, his monologue is juxtaposed against footage from the chaos and death that besieged Berlin after/during the third Reich’s fall. This kind of storytelling seems to be a product of societies that have gone through incredible pain and loss on grand scales. There are similar, at least it seems to me, creative machinations at play in artists trying to sort out their country’s faults or miscalculations amid a general sense of nihilism, or existential crisis. This can be found in filmmakers in comparable situations, like Akira Kurosawa and his string of post-war films in Japan for example.

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Peter Falk (best known for his TV detective character Columbo) has a playful role here as a convincing version of himself. He too gets to muse in some hypnotic inner dialogue, preoccupied with his upcoming role in Berlin on the flight from America. It’s not until he reveals to both Damiel and us the audience, that he can feel the presence of Damiel the angel, and he knows that Damiel can hear him. This being due to the fact that Falk too was once an angel that gave it all up thirty years prior in New York City. This could have broken the immersion and illusion of the story but it’s wisely played down and not focused on too heavily. In the end if you’re looking for a somber stroll through late 1980’s Berlin while heavy with thoughts spiraling from anti-war nihilism to the nature of love and the awe in simply living- then I would certainly recommend it.

Final Score: Two Angels and a Circus

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Review: Jurassic World (2) Fallen Kingdom

*** WARNING! SPOILERS! ***

Written by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow and directed by J.A. Bayona, “Jurassic World; Fallen Kingdom” is the sequel to the 2015 smash hit reboot of the “Jurassic Park” franchise that Steven Spielberg began back in 1993. I saw this film over it’s opening weekend but I’ve been letting the movie brew in my headspace for the last week because it was such a mixed bag. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more Frankenstein-like film before to be honest. The direction, visuals, special effects, and suspense of the film were all impressive- but the writing, character choices, and plot of the film were completely off the rails! It felt as if there were two or three very separated and distinct flavors of attitude controlling this bucking beast of a sequel and no one knew how to handle it- with no cooperation across the disparate groups whatsoever. The film didn’t know what kind of story it wanted to tell.

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First of all, I feel that you should be warned going into this film- there is nowhere near as much Jeff Goldblum as this movie needs, or to the extent that the marketing implied there might be. If you’ve seen the trailers, that’s essentially his whole performance. However, as welcoming as a Goldblum addition is to any film- this use of the character of Ian Malcolm directly collides with the ideology (and thus the main driving force of the plot) of the main characters Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). It’s this exact fulcrum that the film has issues with. Are the dinosaurs of Isla Nublar myth made reality, conjured from wonder and awe? Or are they vicious monsters that mindlessly consume and terrorize? Should the humans save the ill-fated creatures from Isla Nublar’s awakened volcano? Or should we let Nature take it’s course and re-extinct these de-extinct animals? Goldblum’s Malcolm restates his thesis from the first film and of it’s sequel “The Lost World” in which he argues against saving the dinosaurs. After which we cut directly to Claire’s new job running an indie-sized organization to “save the dinosaurs!” A drastic evolution from the first film where the character viewed the lab grown creatures as assets, something from which to gain profit. Here she’s a fully fledged animal rights activist. Quite the leap. We’re then informed of John Hammond’s original financial partner (Who we’ve never heard of until now, the fifth movie) for the first park in Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who’s in need of a well informed crew to make a last ditch effort to salvage his old friend’s creations.

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Beyond the philosophical and moral whiplash, the characters make stupid, convenient, and foolish choices throughout the film. Granted, the franchise has been built on the ill-fated decisions of humanity before- but they were never this outlandishly dumb about it. From the military minded Wheatley (Ted Levine AKA Buffalo Bill from “Silence of the lambs”) unclasping the Indo-Raptor cage purely to add another dino tooth to his collection, to the enormously lazy writing choice that the young Maisie (Isabella Sermon) commits to in the final scene- the writing is clunky and unfocused. The script tries to obtain specific outcomes for further franchise building- but in doing so it wastes the opportunities that the current story could have created. There are ways to get the outcome that the ending of “Fallen Kingdom” sets up- but the way they got there was painfully stupid. I won’t spoil the exact ending, but trust me, it’s bad. It’s also a weak excuse to pin the fallout of this film on a young girl when there are so many other ways they could have played it. An immediate easy fix would be to let Mills (Rafe Spall), Lockwood’s assistant with ulterior motives, make that major dooming choice as he’s dying to spite the main characters instead of just using his death as a visual callback to a death in “The Lost World”.

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That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have some value to it. The imagery and direction, along with the mood, sense of suspense, and entertaining set-pieces all combine to smooth out the film and lessen the extent of mistakes that engulfed the rest of the story. The way Bayona uses scale, lighting, and framing all collectively raise the content above the level of quality expected with these movies by now (excluding the original- obviously). In fact the second half of the film taking place inside a giant mansion was a fun diversion and there were some good ideas that they could have expanded on. An illegal dinosaur auction has its merits in theory, but the film took a cartoonish mind of villainy at this point. One shot even has Mills face being lit up by a computer screen as counters and bars load while numbers skyrocket- a necessary shot to remember that the villains are greedy and evil. There was a few good half baked ideas in this script, and it might have turned out great eventually, but there just wasn’t enough to get a score better than “Passable” from me honestly. I was entertained with this film, but the more I think about it, the less I appreciate it retroactively.

Final Score: 11 Jurassic species and a few half-baked ideas

 

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Review: The Witch

Written and directed by Robert Eggers, “The Witch” is A New England Folktale set roughly in the 1630’s that follows the story of a family cast out from society in the new American colonies for being accused of “prideful conceit”. While we never get the exact details about what William (Ralph Ineson) and his family engaged in to receive a sentence as damning as banishment, that isn’t what the story is truly about anyways. We can surmise that William probably took his own interpretation of the bible to be more accurate than those of the colony. As he claims in the opening scene that he practiced only “the pure and faithful dispensation of the Gospels”. Thus the film begins as the family of seven treks out into the wilderness, firm in their decisions, unknowing of their doom to come.

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The family consists of Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) the eldest son- though he’s only about twelve, Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) the young twins that earn the title of creepiest kids in the film, and Thomasin the eldest daughter, a few years older than Caleb and easily the standout performance of the film- though all are great. Katherine (Kate Dickie) the Mother, who unravels psychologically and spiritually as the film progresses, is at a complete loss once the youngest child, Samuel the baby, is mysteriously abducted near the beginning of the film. It’s always a gamble with child actors, but this may be the best use of little performers since “Jurassic Park” (I’m not dying on that hill- I just rewatched the classic recently and it’s been rambling about in my headspace since). They’re all poise perfect in their period-accurate performances. Thomasin in particular is a fascinating role, as the family crumbles from within Witch accusations are aimed at her, and there is a bit of sly wit hidden subtly in her performance that makes you ask, Wait… is she actually the Witch? The paranoia of the family is infectious to say the least. Though Caleb makes an argument for the best, and most chilling, scene in the whole film- it certainly got to me in the moment.

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See, the beautiful trick of the film is that while the title may indicate that the film is about “The Witch”, and there is indeed some supernatural underpinnings trifling about, it’s more about the effect that the Witch has on this family. They are torn apart as much by their superstitions and fears of damnation as they are of the titular creature’s actions. In fact it is this weaving of the supernatural with the sense of hard realism that makes the film stand out from it’s genre limitations to become something more than the sum of its parts. On a technical level, the film pays homage in cinematography and framing to old religious renaissance paintings, particularly of Goya’s work on the subject of Witches (Even though he lived a century later in Spain). The score is also worth mentioning as it fuels the sense of a tense and bellowing doom. Booming orchestral vocals against a moonlit forest paint the mood for the film, danger lies at the edge of the woods, damnation is afoot, and trust is cast aside.

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Old religious imagery sprinkled in throughout the film with the age appropriate attitudes of the family combine to heighten the dread that would be nearly impossible within a modern setting. We don’t take everything in life as a seriously as those before us had. After giving this film a watch I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, so I read up on what countless others had to say on the matter. There was something particularly unnerving about the film that I just couldn’t articulate efficiently, Was it the acting? The setting? Or simply the unabashed originality behind it? Then I gave the New Yorker’s review of the film a read and Anthony Lane perfectly exemplified what I was missing, “This is, to put it mildly, an uncommon state of affairs for anyone who frequents the cinema, the theatre, or the opera house. How many people, these days, heading out of ‘Don Giovanni,’ are honestly shaken by the mortal terror of the hero, in his final conflagration? Which of us treats ‘The Crucible,’ set sixty years or so after the events of ‘The Witch,’ as anything but a reflection on the political hysteria of the time in which it was written? The problem is simple: we can’t be damned. One gradual effect of the Enlightenment was to tamp down the fires of Hell and sweep away the ashes, allowing us to bask in the rational coolness that ensued. But the loss—to the dramatic imagination, at any rate—has been immense. If your characters are convinced that a single action, a word out of place, or even a stray thought brings not bodily risk but an eternity of pain, your story will be charged with illimitable dread. No thriller, however tense, can promise half as much.” The historical context and how accurately the characters were represented in their actions and fears gave the film an unshakable authenticity- we believe that the characters believe with a steadfast resoluteness. There are no jokes or irony in their performance, no release once the film has you in it’s grasp.

“The Witch” is a fascinating and unconventional horror film that preys upon our past to craft a finely tuned and chilling film. I definitely recommend it if you’re into unique offerings in this genre- though it is slow at times and will definitely not be for everyone (It wholeheartedly earns its ‘R’ rating). I wouldn’t recommend it to new parents- unless they enjoy fresh nightmare scenarios they hadn’t yet considered to keep them awake at night. It’s out on streaming services and physical media at this point, give it a watch if you can- it’s definitely a standout of the genre in my opinion.

Final Score: 1 Black Phillip & 1 damned family

 

Sources:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/29/the-witch-review