Will The Witch (2015) be the gothic chiller we’ve been waiting 50 years for?

 

Your friendly family witch-doctor Briggs is here, just in from seeing the trailer to The Witch, the latest in a series of much-hyped original horror pieces the 2010s have been offering up to us!

It barely bears repeating if you’ve watched TalkHorror’s live show before, but I generally like how horror has been shaping up in the 2010s. As a trend, found footage has a far better track record than the torture films, Asian-inspired ghost films and especially remakes of the 2000s ever had. And personally, I think today’s paranormal films have the “extreme” slashers and zombie apocalypse fodder of the 2000s beat. Maybe I’m setting myself up for disappointment, but I think horror may just have cycled back to the more experimental (and more genuinely disturbing) mindset of the 1970s.

However, if there’s still one thing we’ve been sorely missing a return from in the 2010s, it’s the subtler, psychologically unsettling neo-gothic chillers that were mostly found in the horror/thrillers of the 1960s. The Haunting, The Innocents, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Repulsion are all examples of this kind of film, the likes of which have had many elements copied in more contemporary horror, but rarely if ever delivered the same kind of low-key mood that raised them head and shoulders above their imitators. The last film I know of to attempt at it was 2001’s The Others, which was a drop in the bucket compared to a lot of the bland offerings that were released in the same year.

Now, with supernatural films dominating the market anyhow, I believe the time is right for us to see another surge in psychologically haunting horror. And if there’s one recent piece of evidence that tells me that wish may just come true, it’s the trailer to The Witch.

Something I find less common in the trailer to The Witch is its lack of “boo” moments. During the peek-a-boo scene in particular, I found myself waiting for something frightening or clearly ominous to pop up. Instead, when Thomasin uncovers her eyes for the second time, the baby she’s entertaining has simply vanished – horrifying and relatable, but refreshingly not over the top.

While it dials up the intensity in a way typical of modern trailers, with eerie music and sound effects steadily increasing in volume, nothing leaps out at the characters, nothing runs through the brushes, no one and nothing jumps out and screams. The only “shocking” thing the trailer reveals appears to be the blood-stained exorcism or interrogation (or both) of a young boy, which next to the other scenes shown in the preview makes it seem non-indicative of the film’s overall level of explicitness. Other visceral disturbing moments include a goat who gives pus instead of milk, and goes wild in the outdoors, which manage to not come off as indulgent or exploitative. Rather, I predict such things will go towards heightening the mood.

The focus, at least as much as we see in the trailer, is mostly on steadily decaying character drama, and on the characters’ relationship with the untamed wilderness around them, which seems like it could be scary in its own right. After all, that kind of thing, man against man, man against environment, is much of what made the films I named earlier so effective.

While I don’t mind seeing more extreme horror, and I certainly don’t hate it on principle, I miss films that examined the darkness very gently, as though it were as afraid of what lies within it as the audience should be. While I’m not saying for sure by any means that The Witch will live up to my expectations, or that if my expectations are correct it will mean more films like it will follow, I’m cautiously optimistic for this one. Emphasis on the optimism.
The Witch has not yet set a wide-release date, but is planned to be available to the public in 2016.

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