The first film I went to see at the cinema that genuinely, properly scared me – like all the hairs on your body on end scared me, so shot with adrenaline I couldn’t sleep scared me – was What Lies Beneath. I was 18, had just left home and went with some pals to the local cinema and when I came out I was petrified and it was BRILLIANT. I felt so alive dammit. I don’t know why it scared me so much. Maybe it was because every time Michelle Pfieffer screamed my friend had screamed milliseconds before (that’ll rack up the tension). Or maybe it was just so bloomin’ tense already, it combines creepy, creeping tension with old fashioned JUMP tactics, this makes you so on edge that you jump 3 feet when the scare comes and a little bit of wee comes out. Or maybe it was because it has (spoiler alert for a 16 year old film) HARRISON FORD as the baddie. I mean Harry was like my Dad growing up, always the lovable rogue – Indiana Jones (You no mess with Dr Jones, lady), Han Solo (Captain, being held by you isn’t quite enough to get me excited), Jack Ryan (You get him, Jack. I don’t care what you have to do. Just get him.) I mean, it’s Harrison Ford, he always just wants his family back – how was he the bad guy?? It was SUCH genius casting.
I’ve been chasing the thrilling fear that What Lies Beneath gave me ever since, it’s happened on DVD – Ringu (watched alone in a dark house late at night in the country – shut the front DOOR that was horrifying), Don’t Look Now (the dated quality just makes it creepier), The Orphanage (creeping creeps) all got me at one point or another, but I was never THAT scared again. And I’ve always thought it’s because I don’t see horror at the cinema, not really on purpose, but I often wait to see at home because I just like to check it’s the right KIND of scare. Because HORRIBLE horror just makes me go MEH. Yes I am looking at you Eli Roth.
So when I heard about The Witch I thought oooooh I am going to go and see that IN the CINEMA and that will be creepy and brilliant and I will feel as I did in 2000.
How wrong can you be?
Because I LOVE films, and love the cinema, it’s rare that I feel so utterly cross after a cinema trip. I usually just enjoy the experience of being in the dark, totally away from current life, even if afterwards I go to the pub and find all the plot holes and tear it all apart, when the film is actually on this is me:
But watching The Witch I was already annoyed about halfway through. I went on opening weekend so I could be totally uninfluenced by other opinions – and maybe I am missing something, because in the reviews I’ve since heard it’s getting a lot of praise, but overwhelming they are saying it relies on what you bring to it. I don’t want to bring anything to horror / suspense – I want to be horrified and frightened dammit!
Director and writer Robert Eggers spent a lot of time on this movie, and much respect let’s start with what was good. It was beautifully shot, gorgeous use of wide open space vs small period living space, fantastic P.O.V shots, slow, unflinching long shots, beautifully lit making great use of candle-light and natural light. The cast were mostly strong – the twins were my favourites though, lovely and natural, while everyone else was doing their VERY BEST ACTING. The attention to detail is exquisite, I read a whole article about how zombies on screen are let down by perfect hands, everyone in The Witch had dirty fingernails, worker hands – nice one Eggers. The language was all period perfect too ‘Thee, thy, thou, lass’, creating a fabulous atmosphere.
Here’s the thing though – if this was a good suspenseful thriller / horror / creepy movie I wouldn’t be listing these lovely details first, because I wouldn’t notice them. Famously, in The Exorcist, Father Karras reaches out to turn the recorder on with his left hand, camera cuts to close shot and it’s his right hand. This error was deliberately put in by director Friedkin to see if the audience were frightened enough – because if they noticed the error, they weren’t. Of course no one noticed – The Exorcist was pants off scary when it was first released, even if now it has been parodied into oblivion. So my admiration of the lovely details of The Witch just meant it wasn’t working on the level it should have. And because I got cross with it, I then started to be mean…my brain was all.. ‘You can totally see the wig line on Ralph Innes – they should’ve had him grown his hair out’ ‘Hah, period accurate but that teenage girl has pierced ears’. When the film isn’t gripping enough, you notice all the anachronistic bits.
The Witch has a LOT going on, I did a summary of my experience of the themes, ready?
First there’s a WITCH. She’s quite witchy and robs and kills a baby, nasty witch. Sometimes the witch is a bunny rabbit, or maybe a hare – but they are NOT SCARY and sometimes a sexy lady (also not scary though I liked her ‘could be a gingerbread’ house). But then she vanishes and you go wait, IS THERE A WITCH? Is this a Blair Witch type thing, maybe there isn’t a real witch? But I saw her and she had the baby. Hmmm.
Hee hee twins. Look at the little moppets dancing with that goat. BLACK PETER BLACK PETER la de la le laaaa. Ha ha. Ralph Innes fell over in the poo.
Oh OK I’ve got it, it’s about RELIGION and the extremes of religion AND the extremes of living in a wild and harsh landscape, man trying to order nature with his religious rules. Yeah. No wait, now it’s the cabin fever of all living closely and RELIGION, let’s all accuse everyone – so it’s The Crucible right? I SAW GOODY PROCTOR WITH THE DEVIL. Wait no?
Why is he looking at his sister’s boobs. Is this an incest thing? Oh now he likes the witches boobs – so it’s a I’m becoming a man thing. OK then it’s about a SEXUAL AWAKENING – oh he’s dead. Right then it’s her – a teenager leaving childhood behind and forging her own way. METAPHOR. Oh that IS a nice shot lighting wise. Wait where are the twins? Sad they didn’t get a proper ending. #bestthinginit
SO SHE’S THE WITCH? Argh GOAT LOOSE. Gooorrrrrrrre. OMG did you just kill your own Mam? Why don’t you care that literally everyone you know is dead. You’re weird sister.
Oh because YOU ARE A WITCH. Maybe? GOAT.
Oh dear. Somebody has seen Roman Polanski’s Macbeth. WITCHES BE CRAZY (and naked). Ooh wait, let’s add some flying. It’s like the end of Grease. But altogether LESS FUN.
So, to conclude, I wasn’t scared at all. If it was a film about a witch there wasn’t enough witch. If it was examining the extremes of living with strict religion and the way a casual remark can turn everyone against each other – then well just go and see The Crucible. Preferably on stage, because Daniel Day Lewis’s teeth are WAY too white in the film. If it was about her sexual awakening / rebellion I didn’t care and it wasn’t that convincing. I almost cared at points, and I can’t say anyone in it was a bad actor (it fact they are all very good) it just felt all a bit EARNEST and worthy and not, remotely, scary. Sigh.
So you know what I did? Yep, I watched Fury Road again and that made my heart beat faster. WHO KILLED THE WORLD?