Anatomy of A Witch
As the genial sun rises over the New England woods, we are treated to the fact that the family loses. In quite a loud manner, the ending of the film echoes the family’s failures, which in the battle between religion and its evil counterpart, evil triumphs. I’m curious to see Thomasin’s reaction in the morning following her induction into the witch coven, the shock from knowing that she can now levitate, but even more that Satan is well and truly within her.
Is it at all possible that I like horror films too much? Yes. What type of horror film? You have zombies, thrillers, slashers, gores and the list goes on and on. Personally, I’ve always had a crush on witches. It’s just the notion of witchcraft that fascinates me, such that The Blair Witch Project and The Wicker Man are some of my favourite films ever (special shoutout goes to 1990’s The Witches, the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s). To be honest, there haven’t been any good witch films, with recent remakes like Suspira and most naturally, The Blair Witch Project. Horror doesn’t always have to scare you. That’s my belief. It does, however, have to render you curious enough to want to be scared. Be it a good plot line, an interesting character, whatever it may be, we as the audience pay our money for the last third of the horror film. This is where pandemonium breaks out, our characters frantically fighting against the elements to ward off the “evil” that they finally acknowledge. Unlike its predecessors, The Witch does not subject its audiences to the torture of unoriginal buffets and a muddled mess of generic crap.
From the cinematic point of view, one which proves that there is still a very good reason why we don’t see thought provoking, unique horror movies, The Witch is a difficult movie. The old English spoken is redolent of high school Shakespeare, so the fact that the film was spoken in such a way was not 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 does not make anything easy for its audience. Long story short, this film does not hold back when it comes to disturbing, and knowing when to actually hold back.
The atmosphere is excellently grown with each passing sequence. For all of its deranged witch chants and high-pitched violin sounds, the film is reminiscent of the shower scene from Psycho, dedicated to stifling its audiences. I suppose my spiel about trashy remakes is debunked when I say that The Witch does well to the cinematic extent. Apart from the soundtrack, the camera work behind the slow rising conflicts happens en noir et blanc, loudened by the claustrophobia, reminiscent this time as well. Similar to In The Mood For Love, the boxed-in lens conveys a unique message. Even though you would expect the open wilderness to be much more liberating, and under the cosh of a restricted space, the family’s rigid adherence to religion is what drives them insane; the constant feeling of being watched, not by the audience, but by the spooky witches. Outside the fenced cabin, the threat of “the witches in the woods” is very much a reality. Earlier I said that the film intelligently holds back on some parts, and I meant that. There is not complete transparency as to what the audience is genned up on, being particular about scenes and what is up for imagination. A simple game of hide-and-seek is the cause of Sam’s disappearance. And normally if you lose your younger brother to some witch in the backyard, you’d probably receive more than a strict reprimand from your parents. The scene fast-forwards a few days, allowing us to imagine Thomasin’s contrite admission that Sam is indeed, kidnapped/witched.
My point is, the theme of The Witch is what matters here, not fretting over losing a kid. The battle against evil is lost and the journey to insanity highlights the malevolent forces lurking in the corner of a pure, religious family, sorta like a lightbulb in a dark room, the other way around of course. Suspicion roams free like a disease, and character flaws are everywhere. Is Thomasin really a witch? Caleb is/has a horny little prick. Thomasin is always jealous of her younger siblings for having no chores. And who stole that godforsaken trinket? Honestly, this family needs a visit to a therapist.
The main character is isolated from the rest of her family, and no matter how hard Thomasin tries to uphold her filial duties, she is wrongfully portrayed as a Satanic worshipper. This means that she is pure, maybe not as pure as her younger siblings, but at least not what one would consider “baleful”. At the end, the climax can also be regarded as a choice, since evil no longer seems like such a taboo idea. All day long, Thomasin suffers from religious and familial oppressions and warned against the temptations of the Devil, so converting to the dark side actually represents liberation. In religious context, signing Devil’s book is without a doubt, disturbing. Yet for Thomasin and the audience, the same disturbing act just does not give off an equally frightening taste.
Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
This is the reason why we watch films. They challenge our rigid perspectives, make us wonder if there is a loophole amongst this mess. Black Panther realizes an African country powered by technology and untouched by colonialism, which allows their antagonist to ask “why not take over the world like previous empires have?” On the topic of questionable liberations like Thomasin in The Witch, a similar issue could be Rosemary from her titular film, Rosemary’s Baby, to kill the infant or to give in to her maternal instincts? Now tainted, Thomasin is seen happy for the first time in forever and floating around like a happy ghost, all for the price of selling her soul. It is not her God-loving family that ascends to literal haven, it is her, the one who signs the Devil’s book.
Thomasin lives a rigid, joyless life surrounded by people who waste 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 loses her 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 on 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.
Whatever happens to Caleb, or the twins, is none of our concern. Perhaps Thomasin is selfish for neglecting her siblings at the end, I mean who really cares? The Witch is powerful on the frontier of not just horror, but also choosing sides, normalizing the abnormal and thereby showing that there is nothing to fear about the supernatural. For now.