Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 17: The Witch (2015)
“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” A line of dialogue I’ve heard uttered countless times since The Witch’s release back in February. These line will probably stand as one, if not the biggest, hammer drops of the year. Released by one of the hottest distributors for indie films there is, A24, and surrounded by incredible hype from the festival circuit, writer-director Robert Eggers’ feature debut flew in at exactly the right time—a time when the big studios weren’t releasing anything close to good horror, leaving companies like A24 to pick up the slack. And oh, boy, did they.
Although I’ve grown a bit lukewarm to The Witch since my initial praise (mostly due to technical gripes), it’s still one of the best horror films of the year. On one hand just genuinely terrifying, and on the other an interesting exploration in misogyny and religious fervor in the early-to-mid 1600s New England, this damned thing is a fleet and densely-packed 92 minutes.
It follows a family after they’ve decided to live on their own away from normal society, as they don’t exactly agree with a lot of the bureaucracy overtaking the local government. They’re devout Christians and believe that God has a will and a way for them, no matter how screwy it gets. Well, I think it gets screwier than they thought it would. The baby son of the family disappears into the woods and sends everyone else into a tizzy. The eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), has to pick up the pieces of the family after her parents fall into grief upon losing the baby. Her parents project their grief onto Thomasin, accusing her of being a witch and using black magic on her younger siblings. I’ll spare you the details, but stuff keeps happening and people get hurt.
Eggers chose a pretty difficult way of going about making The Witch: He steeped himself in New England witchcraft and folklore to get a good idea of exactly what women were accused of during that time and place—primarily in Salem, Massachusetts. The writer-director even wrote all of the dialogue in the same tone and verse that people used during that day. A lot of education came from the Bible, so you can imagine why people spoke lines from it all of the time back then.
My main umbrage with The Witch is of an aesthetic nature. Eggers seems to be a huge fan of framing things like they’re portraits, hoping that his images will do more than say a thousand words. He’s not wrong; some of the shots he shows here are truly unsettling, filled with inspiration, and incredibly detailed. On the other hand, his main color palette here is filled with washed-out greys and blacks. There’s a point to Eggers’ bleak view of that time and place, but I’m just not entirely sure that “dull and bleak” has to be so utterly devoid of color and depth.
Anyway, I’m straying from my central point: The Witch’s conceit of tying old-timey concepts to new-timey ones works wonderfully. Thomasin’s own questioning of the values upon which her childhood was built is compelling, plus it doesn’t really help that some witches are out to recruit some new blood. Watch The Witch this Halloween season. You won’t regret it. Black Philip is watching.