The Witch

The Witch

I’ve set myself a goal of watching (at least) one horror movie a day, at least through Halloween, largely inspired by all of the great recommendations I’m hearing on my new favorite podcast, The Evolution of Horror. I was going to start in October, that being the spookiest of months, but I just couldn’t hold back. I’ve always been a horror fan (my mother, a big Stephen King fan, took me to “The Shining” when I was far too young and watched movies like “Poltergeist,” “The Hearse,” and “Motel Hell” with me when we first got HBO in the early ’80s), but I don’t always make time and space to indulge. Setting a goal, I’ve found, is a way to get myself to do things I enjoy (I’m a classic “upholder” in the Gretchen Rubin four tendencies model), and ticking off “watch a horror movie” on my daily to-do list is something I really enjoy.

Most of the movies I’ll be watching are on the streaming services–Netflix, Hulu, Amazon. During the week, I’ll probably watch one in the morning while I work, which means I watch the ones that require close attention–subtitles, subtle plots, especially spooky atmosphere–on the weekends or at night, and the ones that are a little more mindless on weekdays. I’m keeping my list of movies I’ve watched on Letterboxd, as well as using Letterboxd to manage my to-watch list. I’ll write a little something–a paragraph or two at most, probably–about each one here.

First up, The Witch, directed by Robert Eggers with a stand-out performance by Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin: a family in 17th century Puritan New England leave their community to live on the edge of the wilderness so as to adhere more closely to their vision of the Godly life, and are tormented by dark forces both from within and without.

I loved this movie! As a descendant of people like this (about half of my ancestors passed through Puritan Massachusetts on their way to the wilderness of Maine), with an academic background in Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Perry Miller, I’m a sucker for a good Puritan morality tale. The film captures the turmoil that the Calvinist beliefs of the family creates–how do we know if we are saved? Are we tormented to prove that we are among the elect, or does the torment prove that we cannot possibly be among the elect? But it balances the high-minded and theological against very real and believable family dynamics: Thomasin terrifies her younger siblings with tales of witchcraft not because she is herself a witch, but because she’s a big sister who’s tired of being pestered. That the things they fear the most turn out to be real and not just figments of their intense religious imaginations makes this movie all the more gripping. And what an ending!

This isn’t a jump-scare, wild-ride horror movie; it’s thoughtful and slow and atmospheric, and tries hard to be true to its setting and sources. But for horror fans who enjoy some history and philosophy, it’s one not to miss.