M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Six of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2015 and going through September 30, 2016. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t! Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!

Released on February 19, 2016. Available On Demand, digital download, and Blu-ray/DVD! Also streaming on Netflix!

THE VVITCH (2015)

Directed by Robert Eggers
Written by Robert Eggers
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Sarah Stephens, Julian Richings, Wahab Chaudhry as Black Phillip, and Bathsheba Garnett as the Witch!
Find out more about this film here, on Facebook here, and @TheWitchMovie

The key to understanding the inner logic of THE VVITCH, you have to look at the title itself. Not that this is a difficult film to understand, but if you consider the title “THE VVITCH: A NEW ENGLAND FOLKLORE,” it’s much easier to go with the flow and understand the type of story the filmmaker was trying to tell. I say this because in the theater I saw THE WITCH, there were a few people scratching their heads as they left. Now, I know a lot of times, pre-screenings of films isn’t always a good indicator as to the type of audience that will be seeking out THE VVITCH, but I think it does indicate that there is a difference between horror movie goers—especially ones who only see horror in theatrical releases, and the general public who show up just to see a free movie. THE VVITCH is not your typical theatrically released horror. I wish it were typical. I think horror wouldn’t get the stigma that is usually gets if there were more movies like THE VVITCH, but alas, it’s simply not what you usually see in theaters.

You’re not going to find jump scares or Don Music piano bangs in THE VVITCH. THE VVITCH is the story of William (Ralph Ineson), a simple New England farmer who has uprooted his family from a settlement to take off on his own and have a fresh start on a new plot of land. His spirited daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is becoming a young woman and his God-fearing wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) seems to want her daughter to leave the home as she seems to be somewhat threatened by her daughters blossoming. Meanwhile, William’s oldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is beginning to notice his sister’s blooming sexuality as well and while the two are close, this both interests and frightens him. While watching her mother’s infant child, Thomasin is dismayed when the baby disappears right from under her nose. When Caleb goes off alone to look for the baby and returns feverish and with wild stories of a witch in the woods, Katherine believes Thomasin to be the cause of it all and that her daughter is bringing the pall of the Devil’s business onto their home.

THE VVITCH, at its heart, is a cautionary tale to be told by God-fearing people to warn their children about evils outside of the comfort zone of the church and home. While there isn’t a bookend to this tale with a camp leader telling a group of children a story around a campfire, that’s exactly what this film is. While many witch stories either illustrate the evil of man and how the threat of womanhood can stamped down in the name of God (see THE CRUCIBLE or WITCHFINDER GENERAL) or go supernatural and show that there really is an evil presence that goes against the word of God (see CRY OF THE BANSHEE or any other cautionary possession film from ROSEMARY’S BABY to THE LAST EXORCISM), THE VVITCH is the first film I can remember to illustrate both sides of the witch argument in an equally compelling and succinct fashion. For much of the film, there is a heavy dose of paranoia and persecution as Katherine’s fanatical belief in God and a series of unfortunate events lead to her claiming her own daughter has been possessed by the Devil. On the other hand, there does seem to be a malevolent presence in the woods and we actually see an old crone who takes the form of many different creatures or uses them as familiars as the story goes on. Embracing both the psychological view as well as the supernatural view is sophisticated storytelling and THE VVITCH balances on this fence between the two quite deftly. At any time, this film could go either way (a more real world based tale of hysteria or a supernatural tale of real evil forces unleashed) and I would have been ok with it.

Eventually THE VVITCH shows its hand and we find out what type of film this is, but by then, I was chilled to my very core. The culmination of horrific scenes set upon the backdrop of the undisturbed forest crescendos to a deafening volume by the end. The horrific imagery that plays out is iconic and bizarre. While witchcraft has been shown in films in many forms, writer/director Robert Eggers manages to fill this film with horrific sights and sounds I have never seen before and while it is patient to get to the horror, every moment is filled with a heavy dread that you are compelled to never look away, even during the most terrifying of sequences.

The cast of THE VVITCH is phenomenal. As Thomsin, Anya Taylor-Joy is the heart and soul of this film. She is still a young girl, but her body is evolving and she is not fully aware of the threat that contains. She shifts from child to adult with ease and a sophistication that many actresses of her age only dream of possessing. Ralph Ineson’s William is fantastic as the cavernous-voiced patriarch of the family who portrays a prideful man who is trying to keep it together, even after it seems he has made the gravest of mistakes for leaving the colony in the first place. Though she plays more of the stereotypical hysterical woman, Kate Dickie still gives her all as Katherine and this paranoia she exudes is terrifying to see grow. But it was little Harvey Scrimshaw who shines brightest here as Caleb. The scene where he feels as if he is seeing God himself is the most mesmerizing performance I’ve seen from a young actor ever. This little guy has the talent and soul that I haven’t seen in a young actor since River Phoenix and I hope there will be so much more of him to see in future films as his performance is both crucial and harrowing here as he takes on both the supernatural and the paranoid with a furrowed brow and a look of determination that is convincing despite his age.

Eggers is a true find in horror and I hope he sticks with this genre. Everything from the look of the outfits to the home to the music which was made with instruments of the times shows the type of patience and expertise with the craft of suspense that the horror genre is lacking in. Every second and every inch of this film feels absolutely authentic. I hate to throw around the “K” word, but there are quiet, yet earth-shattering moments that mesmerize that reminded me of Stanley Kubrick or at the very least Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN. Eggers gets scintillating performances from both children and animals, so he should get a medal just for that.

I really feel sorry for those who are going to criticize THE VVITCH for being boring or slow. The film takes its time to map out a complex dissection of the typical American family and all of the faults that go along with that concept. The characters are beyond compelling and Eggers keeps the characters evolving non-stop from beginning to end, so the static shots contained resonance to me and not a whiff of tedium. While I commend the House that Jason Blum built and all of the horrors he has unleashed through the years, films like INSIDIOUS/CONJURING/PARANORMAL ACTIVITY/SINISTER have become so interchangeable that it’s hard to tell one plot from the other. It’s also conditioned modern audiences to expect a jump scare every five minutes and pandered to the waning capacity for patience. Instead of giving into that, THE VVITCH plays with that lack of patience and stretches the anticipation, which will unease you if you’re that type of conditioned moviegoer. And unease is a good thing to feel in a horror movie. That’s what horror is. And THE VVITCH is what good horror is.

Click here for the trailer!


THE 2015-2016 COUNTDOWN!


#1 – THE VVITCH
#2 – GREEN ROOM
#3 – BONE TOMAHAWK
#4 – THE INVITATION
#5 – LAST SHIFT
#6 – DON’T BREATHE
#7 – TRAIN TO BUSAN
#8 – THE FINAL GIRLS
#9 – THE SHALLOWS
#10 – MASKS
#11 – KRAMPUS
#12 – AVA’S POSSESSION
#13 – BODY
#14 – THE WAILING
#15 – THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE
#16 – MORGAN
#17 – DEATHGASM
#18 – 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
#19 – DER BUNKER
#20 – DECAY
#21 – EMELIE
#22 – NINA FOREVER
#23 – HUSH
#24 – THE MIND’S EYE
#25 – DARLING
#26 – SUN CHOKE
#27 – SUMMER CAMP
#28 – BASKIN
#29 – HOLIDAYS
#30 – THE HALLOW
#31 – SOUTHBOUND


M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.

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