In my humble opinion, the genre of horror movies is currently experiencing a severe crisis. This statement is true for the American film industry: the last time I saw something worth attention was back in 2007, when “1408” was released. It was fun (and scary) to watch, although a large portion of this movie’s value originates from the literary source it is based on: Stephen King’s story underlying the movie is brilliant—the movie only expands on some scenes and ideas from the book. Anyways, since “1408,” there have been only few horror movies that have intrigued and impressed me, but when I saw the trailer to “The Vvitch,” I thought: ”Now that’s something that should be interesting.”
I expected “The Vvitch” to be an interpretation of “The Blair Witch Project”—the famous mockumentary movie about a group of teens haunted by a nameless witch in dense woods—but in the decorations of the 18th century. I liked the cinematography in the trailer: the gloomy grayish palette promised a sinister story generously flavored with religious prejudices. The scenes depicted in the trailer looked unsettling: a dancing and prancing black goat, murky woods, a mossy hut in the forest—all this set me in an rather unnerved mood, so when the movie was finally released, I rushed to the cinema.
And I guess it is not surprising that with the expectations being so high, I was disappointed with the movie. It is not bad, in fact, it is just not a horror film; a “mystical thriller” would be more correct. As such, it is a decent product, but definitely not as nightmarish and disturbing as it has been advertised.
Attention! Spoilers ahead.
The story starts with a family of extremely religious Puritans having to travel to the wilderness to set up a new home for themselves; William and his wife Katherine, two older children—Thomasine and Caleb, two younger twins, and a baby named Samuel—arrive to an opening in the woods filled with a resolution to start a new life there. At first, everything seems to go well (too well for too long—the story develops too slowly), but one day, Samuel mysteriously disappears right when Thomasine plays with him. Events mount on each other, causing the family to get tangled in conflicts. When Caleb leaves the steading and after a while returns naked and feverish, it becomes obvious to all the family members there is a witch living somewhere nearby their settling. Prayers do not help, and the family members die one by one in a sequence of tragic events. The last person remaining alive by the end of the movie, Thomasine, kills her distraught mother and becomes a witch herself.
What I enjoy about “The Vvitch” is its colors, as well as the overall atmosphere of religious ardor neighboring with slight insanity. I guess, in the times of fierce faith in God, many people looked and behaved like William’s family. As promised by the trailer, the image is dark and gloomy enough to make you feel uncomfortable, and the intentional simplicity of many key moments only emphasizes this sensation. Thomasine milking a goat notices flashes in a bucket and sees blood instead of milk there; a witch who kidnaps Samuel uses him to make youth elixir for herself; naked witches dance around a fire in the woods; Katherine breast-feeding Samuel without understanding she’s hallucinating, and it is actually a crow she takes for the baby; a black goat causing misfortunes and talking to the twins, and later to Thomasine (it is not so difficult to figure out who is hiding under the goat’s skin—the only problem is why do religious Puritans keep a black goat, knowing whose symbol this animal usually is). All this, as well as other events, lead to a slightly shocking and crumpled finale.
“The Vvitch” is too slow, though—so slow that sometimes it gets boring. Here is a guy working: he chops lumber, harvests corn, eats his food, and prays to God. The rest of the family members do quite the same. Rinse and repeat. Oh, here’s the witch… ah, nevermind, better look and William working once again.
And the finale… all of a sudden, there’s the devil popping out of the aforementioned goat and proposing to Thomasine to become a witch; without hesitation she agrees to sign the contract and join her new “sisters” in the woods. The question bugging me is how a religious, obedient girl could turn into a witch so quickly? Even considering the fact that she had to commit murder (out of self-defense, and by the looks of it, accidentally), it does not explain the eagerness Thomasine has to be aligned with the devil.
The only time I felt scared was when the witch appeared in a barn, at night, drinking milk out of a goat’s udder. This scene felt like it depicted some sort of ancient evil, and was probably one of the best scenes in the movie.
“The Vvitch” is definitely not a horror movie; it is rather a mystical thriller telling a story of one family’s misfortune. Slow and viscous, the film can make you feel out of place, but do not expect it to impress or amaze you. It leaves an unpleasant aftertaste, but unlike “The Blair Witch Project” it will not make you look over your shoulder when walking down the street alone at night.