Each month, Good Times' resident film critic, Sarah Smyth, chooses a hotly anticipated film for our readers. For March, she picks horror film, The Witch.
For film cynics everywhere, the glut of sequels and superhero franchises oversaturating the market is a regular complaint. “It’s all about making money!” “There’s no room for originality!” “Independent films can’t get a look in!” The box office, is must be noted, is regularly dominated by these limp offerings. But the cynic – including the writer – will be pleased to know that a small corner of the industry continues to remain profitable, even without the need of brand recognition, a big-name star or a multi-national, multi-billion dollar studio: the horror film.
Horror films, seemingly a niche market with their Marmite appeal to audiences, consistently make good money. The most profitable movies of the last five years (meaning the films with the best return on investment) are all horror films. The Devil Inside made $101 million from its $1 million budget, Insidious made $100 million from its $1.5 million and Paranormal Activity 2 made $177 million from its $3 million budget. Granted, the horror film is not immune to the sequels disease that so plagues the rest of the industry. Anyone who slept through what film critic, Mark Kermode, calls “Parasnormal Inactivity 4” can attest to this. But their relatively cheap production costs and indie credentials keep them away from the bloated sequels and superheroes trend. Perhaps there’s even space for something fresh and even, dare I say it, original?
Robert Eggers’ 2016 film, The Witch promises to do just that. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the award for Best Director, to wide acclaim. Critics called it “soul-shaking”, “terrifying” and “one of the most genuinely unnerving horror films in recent memory”. However, the film also proved its crossover appeal as it broke out of the arthouse circuit and made $8.4 million in its opening weekend in the USA. The horror film trend, it seems, continues.
So what, begs the question, does this film have to offer to make it such a success? The film is set in seventeenth-century New England, and follows a self-exiled Puritan family, who work on a failing farm in between the daily ritual of religious fundamentalism. One day, the eldest daughter, Thomasin, is playing peekaboo with youngest child, only a baby, when, after closing her eyes for a minute, he goes missing. It seems an evil witch in the woods snatched him.The film then follows the tensions that begin to implode after his disappearance and the farm’s continuing failing crop.
Although the film has proved a hit with critics and seemingly with audiences given the box office ratings, the film hasn’t proven to be a hit with everyone. It goes for neither the torture porn of Saw or Hostel, nor the jump scares of Paranormal Activity or Insidious. Rather, the film is a slow-burn; boiling tensions, unease and dread under the surface until it completely bubbles over. In that way, the film has more in keeping with the classic witch-chiller, Rosemary’s Baby, or the more recent It Follows. However, for those willing to experience a more left-of-field choice that promises to be genuinely surprising, terrifying and original, this may just well be what we (and the cynics) have been waiting for.
Why it’s worth seeing? This may be Eggers’ first feature, but it promises to be a good one. The film is steeped in cinematic traditions, including The Crucible and The Shining, as well as the religious and cultural iconography of the time. Combined with genuine scares, the film promises to offer a fresh and exciting horror film for 2016.
The Witch is released in the UK on 11th March 2016.
Have you seen it yet? Tell us more!
Sarah is our regular film blogger. Learn more about her here.