Tag Archives: a24 films

The Witch (2015 Sundance)

18 Feb

Zombies and Vampires may come close, but no horror archetype has been represented and caricatured in cinema quite like that of a witch. From The Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter, to Monty Python, we have been enchanted by the mysterious figure. I walked into the “The Witch” thinking I had seen just about every form of witches out there. I was so wrong.

Directed by Robert Eggers, and based of the real-life accounts of 16th century New England puritans, The Witch tells the story of a small puritan family who have recently been banished from their immigrant village on account of religious blasphemy.  William, Katherine, Thomasin, Caleb, Jonas, and Mercy must now fend for themselves by raising a farm in the middle of a forsaken (and possibly haunted) swampland. Without the aid of any nearby villagers, the family is faced with a terrifying ultimatum: either grow food or starve to death.  When crops fail to sprout however, William (Ralph Ineson), the family patriarch, suspects his children have been involved with witchcraft and dabbling in occult affairs. Members of the family then begin one by one to descend into a terrifying spiral of religiously-fuelled madness and savagery.

Part supernatural horror, part paranoid thriller, The Witch is a genuinely spooky take on the occult and the terrorizing effects religious devotion can have on one’s psyche. Thankfully, it is a meticulously crafted as it is terrifying, making The Witch the most artistically minded horror since 2014’s Under The Skin.

The Witch is one of those rare films you just don’t watch but experience; you can feel the sense of impending dread seeping out from the screen as you watch characters slowly peel back the mystery and evil that exists within the nearby woods. Boasting an immaculate production design that effectively recalls the early 1600’s, the film accurately recalls a time and place when religious paranoia fueled all aspects of life.  The film’s dialogue is even written word-by-word from historical transcripts and rendered by the actors in heavy, old-english accents. This kind of attention to detail might throw some viewers off (especially those with an aversion to period pieces) and the slow timing during the film’s first act ensures only those with a bit a patience will brave the film’s nightmarish climax.

This film is dark – extremely dark – figuratively and literally, (I doubt some scenes will even be visible when screened in a lightened room) which adds immensely to its haunting quality. Dimly lit landscapes covered in impenetrable greys add a surreal and menacing atmosphere. With one hell of an unsettling score, The Witch creates subtle psychological tension from the things we don’t see onscreen rather than relying on tiring jump scares.

 

Bottom Line: The Witch is a throwback to the great horror films of the 70’s, but delivered in such a visceral fashion that the ultimate effect is hard to shake off; I literally had dreams (nightmares?) about this thing weeks after seeing it.

 

Rating: 8/10 

Film Recipe: The Wicker Man (1973) + The Shining (1980) + The Exorcist (1973)

Room (2015)

26 Oct

There have been several great films that examine the physical and – more haunting – the psychological aspects of being confined to a single space. Buried127 Hours, and Rear Window come to mind. But no other film does such a great job examining the relationship between one’s perceived physical space and age. When we are young, our perceived space is relatively small; our childhood home, backyard, and occasional trip to the supermarket, cinema, or relatives’ house make up the entirety of the known universe. To 5 year old Jack (Jacob Tremblay), it is a 11-by-11-foot Room.

Jack has literally spent his life in this Room (who is its own character here), with a small skylight being the evidence an outside world even exists. He only ever speaks with Ma (Brie Larson), a controlling but loving mother who tells her son all the people and places and things he sees on the TV are fake, and the only “real” things are the items in the Room with him. These objects become characters to young Jack; Table, Sink, Wardrobe, and Door are his best friends.  For much of the first act of Room avoids the questions of why or how and instead focuses on the day-today activities of Jack and Ma (who also seemingly never leaves the Room). Bit by bit, the pieces of the mystery are slowly revealed to the audience, but not before Jack is given an opportunity to – for the first time in his life – see what lies beyond the Door.

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, director of the whimsical music film Frank, Room is wrought with humanity, emotion, and two of the best performances of the decade. By honing in on the love between a mother and child, Room leaves a large opportunity for disaster if the performances aren’t played by anything but the best actors. Fortunately, this is the film’s strongest point, with Brie Larson giving her all and Jacob Tremblay walking down the rarely-seen road of authentic child acting. Supporting roles by William H. Macy, Sean Bridgers, and Joan Allen are all great, though the most poignant scenes occur between Larson and Tremblay.

Room works best when it focuses on simplicity; instead of opting for complex themes and ideas, Abrhamson is able to extract volumes from the simple story by playing to the actor’s strengths and triggering heartstrings like a simple, but beautiful piano melody. It’s such a shame Abrahamson tries too hard to shoehorn everything into the first anxiety-ridden 20 minutes, leaving a thin third act that fails to match up to a suspenseful mid-film climax. Still, Room resonates in it’s quieter, introspective moments – particularly so when it’s characters face the repercussions of rehabilitating into society.

Bottom Line: Though it’s easy pickins for anyone to criticize Room for being too contrived and emotionally manipulative, it’s hard to knock the genuine skill and humanity with which Abrahamson conveys his subjects, and performances by both Brie Larson and newcomer Jacob Tremblay are top notch. 

Rating : 7/10 

Film Recipe: Short Term 12Beasts of the Southern Wild