Tag Archives: witches

The Witch – Review

28 Feb

Horror movies have been in a pretty sad state recently with the constant remakes, sequels, and reboots. Does the world really need another Paranormal Activity? No, it really doesn’t. There have been some diamonds in the rough with critically successful movies like It Follows, which is one of my favorite horror movies to be released in a long time. Now we can add another intelligent and beautifully made horror movie to the rankings of modern horror classics. This movie is Robert Eggers’ debut film The Witch. Without rambling too early on in the review, let me just say that this is exactly how horror movies should be made.

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In the year 1630, a Puritan man named William (Ralph Ineson), and his family are removed from a religious plantation. The family decides to start a new life by building a house near a large forest and living off the land and the blessings they believe to receive from God. The entire family dynamic is thrown when baby Samuel is kidnapped and killed by a witch lurking in the woods near the house. After another incident in the woods harms William’s middle son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), William’s wife Katharine (Kate Dickie) places the blame of witchcraft on their oldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). As the days press on, the black magic of the witch torments the family more until the morning they finally reach their breaking point.

Like I said before, The Witch is a prime example of how horror movies should be made. Since the very first frame there’s a feeling of dread and claustrophobia. I’m not talking about claustrophobia in the sense that the family is constantly in an enclosed space, but claustrophobic in the sense that they are completely walled in by the literal interpretations of their religious beliefs. Throughout the course of the movie, the characters all make these incredibly naïve and outlandish choices and accusations, all because they depend so heavily on God’s divine intervention and judgement. This extremist mind set is almost as scary as the witch that is cursing the family, and it mirrors real life in eerily similar ways.

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What I think really makes this movie is the subtlety of it all. Scenes in The Witch very rarely get loud. Instead, the intensity and feelings of terror come from the silences, what can’t be seen, and the inability of the family to escape the tortures that are destroying them. Isn’t the monster lurking in the dark scarier than the one that you can see plain as day? Sure it is, because your imagination never fails to show you the most horrific possibility. Isn’t the overwhelming feeling of dread and helplessness more terrifying than a jump scare that you could see coming a mile away? Once again, of course it is. The Witch doesn’t rely on getting your adrenaline pumping to keep you entertained. Instead it completely infects your body with a spirit of uneasiness that may come back to haunt you when you least expect it.

Something became quite clear about this movie within the first five or ten minutes. I’ve didn’t watch the trailer for this movie, so maybe it was in there, but I had no idea that all of the dialogue in this movie is written in and spoken in old English. It took a little bit to get used to it, but once it did I really appreciated the effect that it had on the movie. It gives The Witch a very authentic feeling, along with the costume design and cinematography. It’s also really impressive that all of the lines were delivered with such ease. At no point was I confused about what they were talking about. I have to give much respect to all of the actors in this movie, but mostly to the younger actors who pulled off the dialogue just as well as the adults.

I went into The Witch not really knowing what to expect. I was just curious about it because all of the hype it got at the various film festivals. Now that I’ve seen it, I can definitely say it’s one of the better horror movies released in a very long time. It’s a very smart approach to the genre, both in the writing and execution. Robert Eggers has made a great start to his feature film making career, and I really hope he explores the horror genre some more. Plain and simply, The Witch perfectly encapsulates how a horror movie should be made.

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Häxan – Review

1 Feb

For this review, let’s get a little weird, and by a little weird I mean a lotta weird. I’ve recently had the odd experience of watching a movie called Häxan, a 1922 Swedish-Danish film made by Benjamin Christensen. I’m not even gonna try and think of things to say about this movie, and instead I’m just gonna write whatever jumps into my mind about it. So without further ado, let’s dive into some insanity.

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To call Häxan a documentary would be a hilarious mistake, even that’s if Christensen originally intended to make. At the beginning and throughout the films are paintings and historical tidbits about witchcraft in order to better explain the topic that is being explored. Everything in between that are fictionalized scenes of witches holding ceremonies in the woods, cooking up potions in their homes, and the church torturing and burning those who are accused of such atrocious deeds. There’s a very memorable depiction of the devil (played by Benjamin Christensen himself). While a lot of it is fictionalized, it’s important to remember that Christensen put in a lot of time for research, which means beyond all the extravagant costumes and effects is some truth.

For a movie that’s about 94 years old, a lot of what I saw really blew me away. There are certain silent movies that floor me when it comes to their special effects, and Häxan is certainly one of them. There’s one excellent scene in particular that shows witches flying over a city, which was done by filming a model of a city that was rotating and the superimposing the “witches” over what they already shot. There are also some costumes that succeeded at supremely giving me the willies. With all of these effects and costumes and outlandish sets made this the most expensive Scandinavian film to be made at the time.

There’s so much fun to have with Häxan with all of the costumes, history, and creativity that Benjamin Christensen put into it. It’s also pretty fun to know that when this movie was first released, it was banned in America for the scenes of torture and nudity. All of these scenes are so laughably tame by today’s standards, but it was clearly a very controversial movie back in 1922. Now, I can admit that Häxan certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I think the amount of people that would really like some of this tea is pretty limited. If you’re interested in silent film or film history in general, Häxan certainly is a trip down the rabbit hole.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – Review

30 Jun

I’m the kind of person that loves defending my guilty pleasure movies, especially the 2004 action/fantasy/horror film Van Helsing. There are certain movies that you have to go in to and just forget about all the rules and be able to switch your brain off for a little bit. Those are some of my favorite kinds of movies, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters definitely falls into the brainless category. Here’s the thing, this certainly can’t be objectively classified as a “good movie.” Sure. What I can personally classify it as is a new guilty pleasure that could have used just a little bit more energy.

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After surviving a traumatic encounter with a witch in her house of candy (we’ve all heard the story), Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) dedicate their lives to hunting down and slaying witches. It’s a bloody business, but somebody has to do it, and they just so happen to do it well. After being hired by the town’s mayor, the duo arrive in Augsburg to take on a job to catch a group of witches that have been taking children from the town. What starts out as a run of the mill mission for the two witch hunters ultimately turns into something completely different when they learn that they are dealing with a grand witch named Muriel (Famke Jannsen), who has powers far greater than anyone they’ve ever faced. As blood continues to be spilled by the gallons, Hansel and Gretel gear up for their final confrontation with Muriel, and a more mysterious confrontation with their own past.

So let’s just get the obvious out of the way. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is not meant to be taken seriously, and anyone who tries to take it with even an ounce of seriousness will begin nitpicking at the most unimportant little flaws, and therefore miss the point of the entire movie. The film’s writer/director, Tommy Wirkola, is no stranger to the world of ridiculous movies. After all, he’s the guy who made Dead Snow and its sequel. This is a movie that is meant to be viewed as just a silly way to escape from reality for a short while, and the movie does its job… sort of. Alright, yeah, it could’ve been better.

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I’m gonna start with the negatives, because they’re just no fun at all. Some of the writing in this movie is shockingly awful, and I’m not talking about the one liners. I love the one liners. I’m talking about the characters and their interactions with one another. As the movie progressed and the action scenes would take a break, the characters seemed like they were trying to develop and form relationships with one another, but it just never happened. This made it hard to care about when something good or bad happened to anyone. Even if you aren’t meant to take a movie seriously, you still have to care about what happens. There were also a few characters that were wasted before they even had the potential to do anything. It would’ve been cool to see Hansel and Gretel team up with a few more people to take down this gang of witches, but I’ll take what I can get. Finally, Famke Janssen’s acting got a liiiiiiiittle too annoying for me to handle at points. She just doesn’t pull of the “over the top evil” thing as well as others.

Let’s be real though, this is a movie I’m going to remember and have fun talking about, because it’s a movie that looked like it was a blast to write and even more of a blast to make. There’s style in every inch of this movie. It’s steam punk meets a Grimm fairy tale, complete with exploding heads, some excellent make up, and Gemma Arterton… I love this woman. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that this movie is a treat (no pun intended). I feel like in a world of remakes and reboots, it’s cool to see a completely unique twist on something that is very well known, a twist that is packed to the brim with imagination. You can sort of feel Wirkola’s passion about this film leaping off the screen. This is a movie he wanted to make, and it shows, even though there are major flaws. Despite the flaws, you have to admire the attention and focus that Wirkola seemed to put into making his vision come to life.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is not a movie that’s going to be forgotten too soon, like it or not. I can almost guarantee that in ten or twenty years time, people will still be using it as an excuse to create a new drinking game, and those people have the right idea. This is a movie made purely to entertain, no matter how you watch it. There’s a lot of sloppiness splattered throughout the entire hour and a half run time, but the movie never loses its fast pace and its sly, self aware sense of humor. If you go into this movie expecting to hate it or expecting anything that is going to challenge your cinematic sensibilities, just relax. Remember how to have fun, just for a little bit, and you might just have a good laugh.

Rosemary’s Baby – Review

24 Mar

In the 1960s, Hollywood was undergoing a major change. From the 1930s up until the late 1950s/early 1960s, movies were strictly regulated in terms of their content. A new Hollywood was now forming and the regulations were not so strong. Enter Roman Polanski’s horror masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby, a deep exploration of psychological dread mixed with dark occultist magic. It’s an excellent combination that is executed perfectly, and couldn’t have been made under the much more strict guidelines of classic Hollywood.

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Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) are a young married couple in search of a new place to live. They finally find comfort in the Bramford, an old New York City apartment building with a strange, dark history. Rosemary and Guy soon become friends with the elderly couple living next door, Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer), who are both eccentric and incredibly friendly. When Rosemary learns that she is pregnant, Minnie and Roman seem very excited, but Guy never really wants to think about it. As time goes on, and the due date for the baby becomes closer and closer, Rosemary begins to become paranoid about everyone around her while dealing with incredible pain from her abdomen and strange concoctions given to her by Minnie and Roman, whom Rosemary now believes are witches. All of this may be a deeply Satanic plot or just a deeply personal problem for Rosemary.

Much like Polanski’s earlier work, Repulsion, this film puts horror in the worst place you could ever have it. In the comfort of your own home. I have place set aside in my heart for films that bring the horror to you, in a sense, like the first Paranormal Activity and The Strangers. What Rosemary’s Baby does differently than these movies is add the plot point of an unborn child into the mix to create some deeply rooted chances to explore psychological dysfunction, but I’ll talk more about that later. Rosemary is never really safe in this movie, and that’s part of where the paranoia and the fear comes from, but Polanski makes sure that this never gets out of hand.

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What makes this film so successful is Polanski’s deft maneuvering of a plot that at times appears to be stuck in the mud, but is never really stopping. The pacing is slow and makes the audience wait a long time to really understand what is actually going on. That combined with the fact that even we don’t full know if Rosemary is in the right state of mind or if this is actually all a big occult plot against her. We spend a good deal of the movie questioning what’s going on around Rosemary and try to piece together all of the evidence that makes sense and the rest that doesn’t make sense. It’s a great way to construct a plot.

So the style and the plot are both really good, and the final thing that makes Rosemary’s Baby the horror classic that it is are the performances. Mia Farrow begins as an innocent housewife into a woman who is completely in shambles, both mentally and physically. John Cassavetes brings his traditional realistic, and almost improvisational, acting style which gives his performance a believability that you don’t always get from movies before this time. Finally, Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer are perfect at playing the old people next door, but bring a disquieting element of distrust that makes for exceptional antagonists.

This video is from Bravo’s countdown of the 100 Scariest Movie Moments. They perfectly summarize everything that makes Rosemary’s Baby as great as it is.

So, if you haven’t already guessed, I firmly believe Rosemary’s Baby is one of the greatest horror movies to ever grace planet earth. It’s pacing and feeling of constant dread and paranoia is very effective and really makes the viewer question what is going on. It’s almost a cliche to say “you never know what’s real and what isn’t” in terms of movies. That may be so, but it is the truth when it comes to this film. If you haven’t seen this, you’re missing out on an essential piece of film history that may even keep you up a little bit tonight when you’re doors are locked and you think you’re safe…