The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

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mfunk9786
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The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#1 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Feb 22, 2016 1:27 am

All I could think about during Robert Eggers' stunning debut film The Witch was Michael Haneke, which is one of the stranger things for an American February wide release to incite. But this is a film that has a lot in common with Haneke's work, preferring to play it ice cold for as long as one could imagine possible to heighten the impact of an insta-iconic, bone chilling image or two, some respite, and play it out all over again, achieving a stunning replication of that sort of austere rhythm that makes Haneke's films so memorable. Whether The Witch will have the staying power of a modern masterpiece like Cache is another question altogether, despite what I perceived as a whole lot of tonal similarity between the two
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(and at the end of the day, the film is essentially Funny Games were white-outfitted brats replaced with unrepentant and largely unseen evil).


It is, as I alluded to earlier, unforgiving to the way films are consumed now, and a low CinemaScore and online user ratings are indicative of the amount of backlash surely coming the way of this highly authentic portrayal of one 17th century New England family, and one very talented casting agent. How Eggers was able to find some of the most beautiful and haunted actors in existence and get them to accomplish astounding verbal and emotional feats without so much as a momentary wink at the viewer is something to be lauded. There are none of the telltale blemishes of "low budget horror" here, and when working with highly authentic and sometimes totally inscrutable period dialogue, the whole cast (children included) are completely game. There are few if any "jump scares" or moments of show off direction (this isn't It Follows, the camera isn't rotating around just because, and music isn't swelling just to swell), instead it's all about anticipation and emotionless lingering on very upsetting and disturbing ideas and images. The sorts of things that will surely be giving me a fresh set of nightmares.

Oh, and get ready to see a ton of Anya Taylor-Joy - she is the spitting image of a young Michelle Williams and, if this film is any indication, just as talented. This absolutely could be as propulsive for her as, say, Winter's Bone was for Jennifer Lawrence. And it should be.

Great film.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#2 Post by kristophers » Mon Feb 22, 2016 11:55 am

I had a pretty bad experience due to the audience in my (packed) theater, highlights of which include the majority laughing and openly mocking what was happening, someone taking a call from his seat, food munching making already tough dialogue inaudible, and the constant cell phone glow scattered about. Ill wait for the hype to die down (or for the disc) to watch it without distraction because I really liked how everything unfolds, the phenomenal actors, and how the plot was surprisingly literal while still being multilayered and anchored in real world history

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#3 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Feb 22, 2016 11:58 am

So you were at a movie theater, in other words? ;)

Not to get all Barmy in here, but we went to the local arthouse that we're members of and that LQ volunteers at (shout-out to Bryn Mawr Film Institute), and a retirement home had bussed in to take in the matinee of this film. Not a lot of chatter, but "that's the witch!" and one person who, upon seeing a goat, said "goat!" stood out. And more notably, the man behind us fell asleep, and his very sporadic and sharp snores only served to accentuate the tense score at just the right moments.

But you're right kristophers, it doesn't seem like this is going to be an easy one to find a receptive audience for, which is the only reason why I brought that up in the first place. And audible eye-rolling going on during a film you're enjoying is the worst.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#4 Post by domino harvey » Mon Feb 22, 2016 12:06 pm

You forgot the first rule of going to a movie: Never go to see a horror movie on a Friday or Saturday night.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#5 Post by cdnchris » Mon Feb 22, 2016 12:13 pm

kristophers wrote:I had a pretty bad experience due to the audience in my (packed) theater, highlights of which include the majority laughing and openly mocking what was happening, someone taking a call from his seat, food munching making already tough dialogue inaudible, and the constant cell phone glow scattered about. Ill wait for the hype to die down (or for the disc) to watch it without distraction because I really liked how everything unfolds, the phenomenal actors, and how the plot was surprisingly literal while still being multilayered and anchored in real world history
I live in Hicksville but my experience was surprisingly "not awful." The theater was actually full of some annoying teenagers and there was a group behind me who kept talking through the first bit but then finally stopped (though they were laughing uncontrollably during the first witch appearance). It wasn't until near the end
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when the witch appears sucking on the goat
that a large group in the middle broke out laughing and then in a very loud manner all started leaving the theater. I was surprised that was the only walkout, though, and that was pretty much 10-minutes or so before the film ended. (Which reminds me of the time I went to see Zodiac and literally, 4-minutes before the film ended a couple frustratingly got up and just walked out of the theater, complaining there was too much talking. I was amused they made it all that way and gave up then.)
I've read many comparing this to The Babadook and It Follows in terms of audience reactions but I think this film will be substantially more divisive than those films with a general audience. On the other hand my wife and I both liked it.
domino harvey wrote:You forgot the first rule of going to a movie: Never go to see a horror movie on a Friday or Saturday night.
I was trying to tell my wife that but she was insistent since we could get her parents to watch the kids. In my case it could have been a lot worse.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#6 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Feb 22, 2016 12:29 pm

The most "liked" review on Letterboxd doesn't include a star rating, and reads:
No theater experience had ever put me in such a depressed state. How a director can craft such a confident, utterly grim film -- dread and tension leaking from every corner of every frame -- only to be mocked by the sad reality that is groupthink. Unfortunately, I cannot comment much on the film itself beyond shallowly stating that I'm certain it's quite brilliant. For I could not become immersed; I could not become absorbed in a film that is shot and scored in such a way that absorption should be effortless. I almost (selfishly) wish that this didn't get a wide release. I'm glad for Eggers, because $$$, but I wish, so deeply, that I could have seen this at my local independent cinema. Rather, I saw it with, by far, the worst (Regal) audience that I've ever been a part of. They were laughing and poking fun at The Witch throughout its entirety. Never before... never, have I heard so many people utter the words "that was a terrible film" upon leaving a theater. And directed at a film which towers over the vast majority of its respective genre? I was stunned, maddened, infuriated. This film, it deserves better than the general populace; it deserves better than the buffoonery that are the masses. I'm apologize for writing such a sour, disdainful and haughty "review." It's just been quite some time since I've been this frustrated by the individuals surrounding me. Sadly, I cannot apply a rating because I have yet to truly experience this film, but if I was to, it would be a very, very high rating.
That reminds me a lot of my [second, I saw it the first time at an early screening with the director in attendance so that went much better] experience with Drive - a ton of loud complaining and the memorable quote that Gosling/Mulligan were "not talking... just being all autistic and shit"

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#7 Post by kristophers » Mon Feb 22, 2016 12:43 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:So you were at a movie theater, in other words? ;)


But you're right kristophers, it doesn't seem like this is going to be an easy one to find a receptive audience for, which is the only reason why I brought that up in the first place. And audible eye-rolling going on during a film you're enjoying is the worst.
To be completely transparent I have a local indie with great reach and haven't been to a "regular" theater since last year's Mad Max, but it seriously took me back to high school movie time and the attitude that usually comes with that ("party!"). I think Domino partially hit the nail on the head: I went opening afternoon. The wide release/marketing probably has something to do with it as well. Hopefully in the end it's positive for A24, because their films usually don't go to the chains. I also like seeing a new director do so well.

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Many people walked out during the entire runtime in mine. Unfortunately most of them let us know they were going too.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#8 Post by lacritfan » Mon Feb 22, 2016 3:48 pm


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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#9 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Feb 22, 2016 4:05 pm

I hope that is some sort of a clue that we might be able to expect a Criterion release that includes Eggers' short film adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart - a guy can dream.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#10 Post by Foam » Mon Feb 22, 2016 5:00 pm

I thought this was tremendous. Eggers did an incredible job of allowing the familiar sexual repression subtext of The Intelligent Horror Film to be fully present without also letting this overwhelm the richness of the supernatural elements, or putting them into simple disenchanted quote marks. It's not that these aspects just coexist on different "levels" or something like that; instead they have a meaningful relationship to each other. The film would refuse to support any reading which simply isolated these elements from each other or too strongly preferred one over the other.

I was lucky to see it with a respectful audience. Only problem was the lights came up early! It's a testament to the power of the final minutes of the film that everyone in the theater still seemed spellbound despite this potentially mood-ruining inconvenience.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#11 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Feb 23, 2016 1:57 am


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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#12 Post by Werewolf by Night » Tue Feb 23, 2016 1:59 pm

The C- CinemaScore is absolutely no surprise. What is a surprise is that A24 sat on this film for a year in order to make the rather cynical move of selling an art film to the public as the kind of low-budget jump-scare crowd-pleaser that typically opens in over 2000 theaters in February. (See the 15-second and 35-second TV spots in the "Alternate Versions" section here.) It was really smart from a financial standpoint, especially since there was never any chance that a film like this would win any major year-end awards. I'm happy for A24's and Robert Eggers' success, and I hope he gets stylistic carte blanche in his future projects, but the way it was achieved reminds me a little of those parents who sneak pureed vegetables into their kids mac and cheese. The motives are good, but it's still underhanded.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#13 Post by cdnchris » Tue Feb 23, 2016 2:09 pm

The C- is actually impressive. A film like this would usually receive an F.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#14 Post by ermylaw » Wed Feb 24, 2016 11:15 pm

This film is extraordinary. While it seemed influenced by Bergman, von Trier, and Dreyer, it also seemed wholly original. Everything about this film worked. The story itself is great and tightly told, and the use of period dialects and phrasing is a nice touch. The acting, including especially the children and the animals, is very solid. The music is perfect and not overly used for cheap "horror" effects. I loved the look of the film, which suited the story well in its darkness and softness.

I am not a horror movie person, so the lack of jump scares and the usual tropes is a good thing in my judgment. The psychological element, clearly influenced by The Shining in part, is much more compelling. And this movies serves to advance some of the feminine-mystical themes of Antichrist.

This movie would certainly make a welcome addition to the Criterion Collection. Having seen some interviews with the director, I think it would benefit from a company willing to put extras in the home video package. I'd be especially keen to hear a commentary from the director.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#15 Post by terabin » Thu Feb 25, 2016 4:58 pm

An extraordinary film that is very hard to watch but deeply satisfying, and filled with mystical and earthy imagery.

Was anyone reminded of Hitchcock when
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the reveal happens near the end with the mother, crow pecking at her breast? A dash of Psycho here, a pinch of The Birds there. It's brilliant.


Question in terms of the Thomasin character:
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I kept waiting for there to be a reveal that Thomasin had really been the witch all along. That she was having these dreams (read mental instability) that were compelling her to play the role of the witch and she imagined herself in the many forms of the witch. And we as the viewer switch in perspective between reality and the playing out of Thomasin's dreams. Am I way off course here?

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#16 Post by ermylaw » Thu Feb 25, 2016 7:01 pm

Regarding the Thomasin character:
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I didn't get the feeling that she'd been the witch the whole time but that her family's suspicion of her as a result of her budding womanhood played into the coven of witches' activities that resulted in her being lured into becoming an actual witch. In other words, I think the whole thing takes place in "reality."

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#17 Post by DarkImbecile » Thu Feb 25, 2016 7:35 pm

Agree with all the praise this has received; I love horror that falls on the disturbing and unsettling end of the spectrum, and this film delivered a handful of great scenes that fit those descriptions. For whatever reason, one that really got to me was late in the film,
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the father falling to his knees, eating dirt and begging for salvation for his children. I think the film was so rich in detail and effectively evocative of that time and place that it was easy to empathize with the desperation he must have felt, basically alone in the wilderness.

My friend with an 8-month-old baby at home, on the other hand, barely made it through the first ten minutes; I have a two-year-old, so the idea of a baby being stolen was decidedly less horrifying to me.
My one complaint with my screening was the near inaudibility of some of the dialogue, including some that was clearly meant for the audience to hear (the scene with the children pretending to be asleep and overhearing their parents' nighttime argument, for example). Was this the sound mix on the film itself, or was it just the theater I was in?
ermylaw wrote:Regarding the Thomasin character:
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I didn't get the feeling that she'd been the witch the whole time but that her family's suspicion of her as a result of her budding womanhood played into the coven of witches' activities that resulted in her being lured into becoming an actual witch. In other words, I think the whole thing takes place in "reality."
I think there's enough room in the film for either interpretation; I'm leaning toward the former myself.
Last edited by DarkImbecile on Thu Feb 25, 2016 7:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#18 Post by ermylaw » Thu Feb 25, 2016 7:42 pm

There is definitely room for interpretation.

I had a similar problem hearing everything during my screening. So it wasn't just you.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#19 Post by AskewWaters » Sat Feb 27, 2016 5:03 am

I actually went ahead and saw this in theaters twice, which would make it both the first and second film I've seen of 2016. At the end of the first screening someone literally booed out loud as the credits began to roll. The second time someone behind me muttered, "Wow, that was f*cked up." to whoever they were sitting next to. Whether positive or negative, this is a film which is getting reactions out of people and is far from the typical Hollywood horror fare. This is very good for the genre, especially seeing that the film has already far exceeded its budget in ticket sales.

The cinematography is divine, and I was ultimately impressed with Harvey Scrimshaw during a more pivotal scene (if you've seen the film, you'll know the one) in the film. I don't believe I've ever seen such a young actor deliver lines that strongly before. I've also really fallen for the score of the film and hope a vinyl is released sooner than later. Can't wait for that blu-ray. Case in point: I adored The VVitch.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#20 Post by Numero Trois » Sat Feb 27, 2016 10:16 am

DarkImbecile wrote:My one complaint with my screening was the near inaudibility of some of the dialogue,
Couple that with the thick accents. I was unable to understand a good chunk of the dialogue. If you're one of those like me who are terrible at deciphering non-USA accents then it might be better to wait for the disc.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#21 Post by Sabman » Sat Feb 27, 2016 1:39 pm

I liked the movie a lot. The scenes with the witch were gorgeous. And I loved how the movie was able to weave in themes of puberty and faith. My only gripe with the movie is with the ending.
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It reminded me of Kill List and The Last Exorcism. While it worked great in those films, I wished the ending was more open ended.
It's funny that so many of you had a bad theater experience. So did I. I saw it at my local Alamo Drafthouse where they serve food during the screening. I wish the servers knew the key moments in the movie and not to serve the food during that time.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#22 Post by djproject » Mon Mar 14, 2016 2:15 pm

The first couple of shots (and many more afterward) and the music reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson, particularly There Will Be Blood.

Not to jinx intelligent discourse but I think what most people were led to believe The Village was =]
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Finally ... you could even draw connections with the Monty Python and the Holy Grail when beholding a "foul cruel rodent" and hearing a couple of little shits decry someone as a "witch".

My brother and I saw this over the weekend. Both of us were thinking of it whenever the wild hare appeared. He was very wise not to tell me his thoughts during the film for fear of being one of those awful assholes =] ... mea culpa =D

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#23 Post by MongooseCmr » Thu Mar 17, 2016 2:16 am

I waited until the last week it was playing near me to avoid the horror stories posted here. The trade off was seeing it in a shitty theater but it sounds like the better alternative.

I would second just about everything already said about this. Really marvelous film. The
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baby scene
is the only thing I've seen in a film that made me feel nauseous after watching it. Maybe it doesn't say much since I get squeamish over needles and heartbeats, but that made me completely mortified.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#24 Post by thirtyframesasecond » Wed Mar 23, 2016 3:13 pm

Phew, I can go back and read the spoilers now. Maybe I'm pretty impressionable but The Witch scared the bejeezus out of me. Nothing since The Babadook has had me watching through my fingers so much. So many scenes replay vividly in my mind hours later. I'm sure those who've seen it know specifically which. Just some brilliant imagery. But Eggers is pretty subtle too with his empathy for the parents who just want to do right for their family and God (well Ralph Ineson's father for sure) and his portrayal of the transition from childhood to adulthood (no awkward teenage years then!) for both Thomasin and Caleb too actually. It's a fantastic film - and obviously marketed as a horror since the trailers included The Purge 3 and other films of that ilk. It's much more subtle than that.

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Re: The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)

#25 Post by Lost Highway » Fri May 06, 2016 7:08 am

I enjoyed the film, but I feel less positive than the other posters here. Maybe yet again my expectations were set too high by a skillfully edited trailer, which made the film look way more scary and intense than it ended up being.

Unlike earlier period classics about witches like The Witchfinder General the film is unambigious from early on that the witch is for real. This is surprising as in all other respects The Witch is such an "art house" film, reminiscent of Herzog, Bergman and Kubrick in particular. For me the lack of ambiguity or moral complexity robs the film of any deeper themes or subtext. It ends up as a beautifully shot and art directed spook show which feels too remote to get really scary and too superficial to work as anything more artful.

The film spends much of its time on the drama of the disintegrating family, which is never that riveting as there never is any doubt that there really is a witch who means harm to the children. Unlike more thematically ambitious horror films about Christianity vs paganism/satanism like The Wicker Man, The Devils or The Witchfinder General, the film has not much to say about religion, which means that in the end it's no more profound than something like The Omen, without the trashy rewards of that film. I certainly don't see the the thematic depth of the better Haeneke films here, even if stylistically the film is reminiscent of The White Ribbon.

The Witch is still striking enough for its meticulous sense of time and place. The meticulous recreation of the period is striking. It's also more entertaining than Ben Wheatley's similar but meandering A Field in England. I'm curious to see what the director will do next as he clearly has talent. He just needs a plot with a little more substance to support his confident sense of style.

The always excellent Kate Dickie (Red Road, Gane of Thrones) who plays the mother here, starred in a little seen contemporary film about witchcraft and Celtic folklore called Outcast (2010), which is rather underrated and which for me at least worked better as a horror film.

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