Settled down last night to one of my horror DVD’s, many of which have been gathering dust since last year. As noted before, I do enjoy hunkering down for a horror film evening supplemented by central heating, closed curtains, low lighting, hot drink and, last night, a cat with diarrhoea.
I had bought the re-release of Suspiria recently, a film which I have seen multiple times in the cinema and on a TV screen, and have yet been able to get through the first 10 minutes without closing my eyes or fast forwarding. (This is the person who has seen The Woman In Black on stage three times, so knows when the climax comes, and still jumped out of my seat on each separate occasion) :
Anyway I decided on The Witch (2016) and was surprised at what a rich and disturbing film it is. Set in 17th New England (the film’s director Robert Eggers grew up in rural New England) the film takes us into its world with such authenticity you accept both the beliefs of the people, whilst still being aware of our contemporary psychological understanding of them.
The film could have been like The Crucible, but Eggers adds on a real supernatural world, from near the beginning, so as a viewer you get caught between the two belief systems, and accordingly can view both. The film’s details of how these people lived are startling and yet true. They live next to deep dark woods, and with their only light being the sun and candles, it is in this environment their fears and confusions manifest themselves and play out. We have never escaped this in our collective, cultural memories; the film references much folk-lore and fairy tale, some forgotten and some we recognise instantly.
What really startled me, though, was the portrayal of childhood and adolescence. The child actors’ performances are extraordinary (though it must be said the whole cast has real commitment to the excellent script), and I have to admit unsettled me a little. The film shows how the child has become such an important a figure in horror and ghost stories. It does not show children as not being innocent, it shows them as products of the terrible, harsh way of life they endured.
The film beautifully balances folklore-inspired horror with the ambiguity of human experience lived under extreme religious beliefs. These people are eventually pushed to mental limits, but we all can recognise how doubt, jealousy or anger governing a hasty decision can have far reaching consequences.
For me this is a “true” horror film: it has bloody horror (made more disturbing through what the camera only partly reveals) portrayed as fantasy and reality, but planted solidly in an utterly credible narrative of characters and environment. And like all classic horror it gets under your skin without you really noticing, and hangs around quite some time after.
If you don’t like horror, then watch it and you will understand why horror is such an important genre.
And yes, back to the cat. I witnessed an Olympic sprint around the televsion, followed by a 4D Stinkerama experience in the last, climactic 10 minutes of the film. I live with my own feline monster.