The witch is an interesting entity of horror. It’s not like a zombie which is a cipher for a number of things at different times; a witch is a symbol of feminine power. So within the animism of horror the witch helps and hurts its case for being in a horror movie.
I think that’s why we don’t get so many witch movies now. It’s fairly limited when compared to the zombie or the vampire which function as these all-purpose entities now. So why is it that after watching The Witch I feel like I’ve seen one of the best horror films in a decade?
First it’s still open to interpretation. Yeah I think its one of those movies where you watch it with 3 other people and everyone can have a different idea about what’s happening. This isn’t quite like a movie where afterwards people say “I think X” and you say “X? There’s nothing supporting that.” However after watching the movie I could totally see a certain view of the movie being read more as an allegory or straight fantasy horror or some other thought.
Second it’s an actual great movie. There are certain realities of being a woman in this time period that the film gives you a stake in. You feel for the young girl Thomasin coming of age in a period that really is pretty brutal for women. You feel for the stress everyone is going though just trying to survive and keep this family together while also having a world view that’s really influenced by a certain reading of the bible. All this stuff is real to these people and when you se what that means for Thomasin it’s pretty horrifying.
Finally it’s just a strong horror film. I think all the other stuff fills in some blanks but looking at the horror films available in the modern day almost any actually good horror film stands out. It’s great that it’s actually good as a film and that it has these interesting things to say about women and world views but it’s actually a strong horror movie. The film doesn’t need to get a jump scare in, it’s much happier to let you wallow in this unease and build this tension to a climax.
Also it knows its audience, it knows that to modern ears these statements drive you nuts, but it does it anyways. Think about a movie that’s trying to be scary and thing imagine what it thinks you’re scared of. Usually it’s a mix of things, a more straight forward fear of say a masked killer but then a fear on the psychological level like living in a dead end town.
The Witch is surprisingly smart about playing with the audience and just crushing you. Gone are a lot of the modern cliches of horror, there isn’t a jump scare that’s actually a cat or some characters you don’t care about wasting your time. You care about Thomasin and her family and the outcome of this movie will stay with you for a long time.