The second film in the Hermanos of Horror celebration of Folk Horror is 2015’s The Witch: A New England Folktale- and with a title like that it’s a fairly obvious contender for our Unholy Trinity.
For the third time in a row I’m finding a way of describing a film that isn’t afraid to take its time.
To say that it is a slow burning film is an understatement.
Describing The Witch is tricky, there is more than a touch of The Crucible- New England and witches, accusations flying around- but the film it most reminded me of was Dario Argento’s Suspiria (which we looked at in one of our pods) and not just because both films deal with witches. I felt the approach to the music in The Witch (Mark Korven), while not identical to Goblin’s idiosyncratic score to Suspiria, really helped to create an unsettling atmosphere, amplifying the visuals with screeching strings, horn blasts, and wailing.
One of the main things I like about Suspiria is how wonderful the visuals are. Argento creates some beautiful tableaus and there is something in the framing of some of the shots in The Witch that reminded me of Suspiria. There are a number of shots showing people being swallowed up by the landscape- early on we see the family, outcast from the town, travelling into the woods by horse drawn cart and they are being absorbed up by the countryside. Caleb, lost and panicking in the woods, drowned by the mesh of branches and lots in the darkness. This theme of being swallowed up by nature runs throughout the film and is even given voice by William:
“We will conquer this wilderness, it will not consume us”
It is a theme which sits well in the sub-genre of folk horror, horror by nature, and this is one of the reasons I feel it is a well deserved member of the Hermanos of Horror Unholy Trinity.
If I was feeling critical I would say that some of the accents felt a little off, but the atmosphere Robert Eggers created with the film was such that accent quibbles felt unimportant and the performances are great- especially Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joy.
When The Witch came out in 2015 the marketing made it out to be typical Quiet Quiet Bang horror fare. It isn’t. It really isn’t. The Witch is wonderful in its slow-burning nature. The ominous creeping sense of impending disaster is there from the very start and it’s all the more affecting for it. Had it been a film full of jump scares it would be much less memorable- not that it is afraid of showing it’s claws, I will never be able to un-see the shot of the baby (anyone who has seen the film will know exactly what I mean!) or the mother nursing the crow, but it isn’t a typical horror film.
Folk-horror is not a typical horror subgenre. It is one that plays with tension and dread and often savours the slow-build- The Ritual, The Wicker Man. The atypical nature is something that demonstrates, not only why we should celebrate the Folk horror subgenre, the beautifully diverse genre of horror.