Puritan horror: The Witch (2015)

In 1630s New England, a fervent Puritan family leaves a colony for a life as farmers. With the crops dying, further disaster hits the family when the baby, Samuel disappears when in the care of the oldest daughter, Thomasin. In the grief and fears of starvation that the family face, they turn on Thomasin, but are the family under a curse from outside, or is there another danger within?

I am a fan of horror, and this is exactly the kind of horror I love. It is supernatural, and while there is one moment of visceral horror that I found very hard to watch, this story is also horrifying in that I was never in any doubt that the dangers that this family face are also from the environment; the cold, the failing crops, the fears of starvation, the loneliness of their situation: with the older two children (Thomasin and her brother Caleb) growing up, what will they do? How will they find spouses, or a life outside the family? 

Thomasin’s maturation into young womanhood is demonstrated as dangerous and troubling to the family; the camera follows Caleb’s eyes as he looks at the open neckline of her nightdress, and the scene of horror features a naked woman smearing herself in blood, which relates to sexual maturity and menstruation.

While the mother, Katherine, turns on Thomasin in her grief at the loss of her child, it is the father, William, whose moral weakness perpetuates the horror of the attacks on the family, flipping recent horror trends of inadequate and damaging mothers in films such as The Badadook and The Others. He allows Thomasin to take the blame for the loss of a silver cup, and encourages Caleb to lie for him. 

The film is stark, frightening but very beautiful. The palette of black, white, grey and beige makes the splashes of red both dangerous and seductive. It has really provoked me to think about parenthood and sexuality in films, and the character that ultimately survives in the film is the one who traditionally would not survive alone. Highly recommended. 

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