"The Witch" Trailer: an Analysis

While I do not wholly consider myself a cynic, there haven't been a lot of horror movie trailers that have grabbed my attention lately. That's not to say the films themselves were awful, but trailers by their very merits are designed to grab your attention right off the bat. It wasn't until I saw the first full theatrical trailer of Robert Eggers' The Witch that I sat up and paid attention. From the very general synopsis of the film, it takes place in 17th century New England where it follows the trials of a God-fearing family of Puritans who have just moved onto a rural property so they may earn their keep. Naturally it isn't long until the hysteria of witchcraft overcomes the family and it targets the adolescent and curiously-named Thomasin (new comer Anya Taylor-Joy), a burgeoning flower who may or may not be involved in unholy congress with the Devil itself.

Though from the looks of it, she may well be...
 The Salem Witch trials are a topic of enormous interest for me. They were a dark and malignant time in human history and especially a harsh time if you happened to possess a vagina. I am not making any big statements here in saying the witch hunts were not only inhumane to people not to mention incredibly racist to non-European individuals but also grossly misogynistic. The very notion of the witch hunt has subsequently taken various forms, most notoriously in contemporary history the practice of McCarthyism during the Cold War- it all comes down to making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for factual and empirical evidence. It also means "the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism." In other words, behaving like Donald Trump.

So when I saw The Witch on Ye Blessed YouTube, I was immediately curious and more than a little impressed. It reminded me heavily of Arthur Millers' play The Crucible which is fitting given the debuting director started his career as a professional theater writer and director. The very direction and the editing of the trailer has a hugely staged quality and I don't mean that as an insult. In addition to that, as quite a few of you are undoubtedly aware, The Crucible too is set during the Witch Trials AS WELL as the fact that Miller wrote the play as a response to Senator Joseph McCarthy's preposterous social panic. I would also advance to propose that with the political climate these days, things aren't that much different when it comes to relations between country leaders as well as the people they have been trusted to govern. Perfect synchronicity, no?

But let's get away from the political details. Allow me to motion as to why I am attracted to the possibility this film may very well be pretty darn good.

When you think about it, when was the last time we saw a film regarding witches (real or otherwise) as sympathetic rather than the antagonist? Although I have not seen absolutely every witch film in existence, those of the pagan persuasion haven't exactly received enough positive and complicated representation on screen. With the character of Thomasin, she immediately comes off as a frightened and confused young woman who is suddenly being victimized by her family, specifically by her mother of all people (played by Lysa Arryn herself, Kate Dickie). I have a strong sensation that this film will focus on Thomasin more than anybody else as she comes to terms with not only being the black sheep of the family but as well as the fact that some malicious supernatural entity is after her body and soul. Now, given the nature of the film and the time period it is set in, I do feel it will be broaching some fairly sensitive sex and gender issues that may come under fire. I feel the main thing to keep in mind is that I sincerely doubt The Witch will condone the punishments and suffering poor young Thomasin will endure. A film that shows the ugliness of violence of any sort should not be labelled as giving the thumbs up for that behavior, but rather showing you that it is condemning these attitudes.  The witch hunts were a thinly veiled abuse of power enacted over the masses, and if you are a person who values common sense (you know, like our fine readers of W.I.G.S.) over being struck down by an intangible being, you will automatically recognize that and not be one of those people who will try to boycott the movie on the count of supposed misogyny.

Additionally, well golly gosh, look at how the trailer looks- if nothing else works for it, it will have an intense and startling array of imagery to keep your eyes glued firmly to the screen. Eggers displays his attention to detail and the intricacies of creating a world thanks to his other career on the stage. As a student of the stage myself, nothing is more reassuring than a director who knows not only what they want, but also how to get it. I find when you have a director who has a clear vision but with room for suggestion, that is half of the work of getting a production up and running done. What also works in his favor is also the fact he has himself a good if not promising cache of actors who are not as 'name' as others, but their talent will inevitably shine through. That's another thing about making a really solid play/movie- competent director and competent actors. The rest is magic that happens between all parties involved.

The elegant Gothic simplicity of the trailer fosters a sense of vague, unnerving dread, one of my personal favourite moments being when Thomasin is playing an innocent game of peak-a-boo with her lambkin sibling before taking her hands away from her eyes only to see the munchkin has disappeared from the crib with only the foreboding woods beyond the property staring back at her. What are in those woods? Whatever it is, the audience's intelligence isn't insulted, allowing us to use our imaginations as to what the blue hell happened to baby bunting. This film certainly seems to rely on the concept of atmosphere rather than showing all of its cards at once. When it comes to intriguing people into seeing a movie, think of it as having sex- you want to please your partner, but you don't want to bust it open all at once. That's what The Witch seems to strongly value and I'm perfectly amicable to that.

By the way- that damned goat. What is goat? What about the goat, man? That goat ain't right. I don't think I want milk or cheese from that shifty-lookin' bovidae. 
That's right Carl, I'm watching you.
All in all, while the film will possibly not be released for a little while yet, it has managed to attain a respectable number of accolades from film festivals around the world. While sure it may very well be an acquired taste, I doubt The Witch will inspire the panic and hatred that the characters have toward Thomasin. If nothing else, it may be a stylish experimental failure that could still be commended for it's artistic merits than any shade of true film making incompetence. I know I will be checking this one out, how about you?
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Fallen Botticelli Angel/Elightened Eldritch/Lunatic Fringe
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  1. Because you know...men didn't die in the Witch trails right?

    1. Of course they did. The women were the majority, but men who were associated were persecuted too. Trust me, I'm not intending to push some sort of agenda here, only to encourage others to watch this film because it's a standout.

    2. Though frankly speaking, the time WAS incredibly misogynistic in terms of attitudes and thoughts towards women, especially if they dared to oppose what they were told to do or were expected to do.