The Witch (2016)

 

Released: February 19, 2016. Director: Robert Eggers. Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Inseson, Kate Dickie. Runtime: 1hr 33 min.

Filmed in the small Ontario town of Mattawa, The Witch is an astounding venture into psychological horror from feature debut director Robert Eggers.

The film’s 1630’s New England setting is a perfect fit for the compelling narrative, inspired by America’s first witch hysteria – where dialogue is taken from diaries and folk tales of the time, which capture the time’s essence.

Also capturing the realistic portrayal is the set and production design. Writer-director Eggers seemed to be an asset to the film because he has had experience with art direction, production and costume design. I assume his experience with that complemented his vision.

The time period was perfect for the artistic tale which I saw as an experiment of how fear of something new – witchcraft – can provoke situations to a boiling point.

The feature concerns a Puritan family whose beliefs clash with their plantation. They’re then banished and they move to a farmhouse bordering the eerie wilderness, which is said to be the home of a witch and other strange forces, like creepy hares and ravens.

After the family’s baby Samuel is taken, they suspect their daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) of being impure and practicing the occult, leading the mother to believe they’re plainly cursed.

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Anya Taylor-Joy in the woods in The Witch. (Source)

The matriarch Katherine (Kate Dickie) exemplifies the family’s grief and is a main source of poignancy – adding a family drama aspect. The patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) performs well, attempting to keep his family intact through hectic occurrences.

Besides strong performances, there are also compelling, realistic characters. Eggers uses them to express impurity and insanity and always real, raw emotions.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin shows promise, showing great range when facing extreme accusations from her family. She has a chilling moment when her face drops at her baby brother disappearing in a scary game of Peek-a-Boo. Harvey Scrimshaw also shines as Caleb in a defining scene.

The cast carry it well through horror and wicked family drama. It’s like a derailment into insanity, with threats of black magic. The Woods itself is a notable aspect.

To me, it’s a character in itself – like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. There’s a dread when characters enter the forest. The Witch is not frightening the way modern horror films are.

There’s no reliance on jump scares and it utilizes atmosphere and concept to terrorize audiences. My eyes widened so much, I thought my face would freeze that way.

The score is wholly unnerving. It effectively utilizes music and sound to instill fear into audiences. As the score heightens, some might wait for a jump scare – but it’s all about the discomfort it brings to the viewer, and the fear of the unknown it invites. Mark Korven’s score makes the film what it is – showing that a horror film requires great music to make it stand out.

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Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch. (Source

Eggers brings a unique vision to the witchcraft genre. His sense of storytelling and his direction of raw horror is refreshing. While this never made me cover my eyes, I’ve rarely felt so consistently unsettled through something this intense. I think I didn’t cover my eyes was because I didn’t want to miss a frame of the beautiful film.

The way cinematographer Jarin Blaschke shoots the feature stuns. Creative angles also make certain images look chilling – even if they would look simplistic in another’s hands. With Blaschke, there’s malevolence in every shot. The nighttime shots frighten, especially when we’re placed in the woods. The way the camera panned into the Woods’ belly was unnerving.

The feature’s main flaw was the way the characters talked – where their dialogue’s meaning was sometimes confusing. I’d likely have to read the screenplay to get the full essence of the themes.

This isn’t for everyone. It’s slow and rewards patient viewers. It’s a treat for genre fans. Though, it isn’t for those who define a film’s scariness through amount of jump scares.

For me, it was an astounding feature debut that immerses, and Eggers’ superbly crafted tale makes it look like he has been scaring audiences for years.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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Oculus (2014)

OculusReleased: April 11, 2014. Directed by: Mike Flanagan. Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackoff. Runtime: 105 min.

Oculus is a film directed by Mike Flanagan, partly based on his own 2006 short movie called Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan, an idea that sprouted into something more complex seven years later. Just plain Oculus seems to be the better choice for a title. It’s an impressively original horror film dealing with a young woman, Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan), who tries to exonerate her brother, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) who was convicted of murder ten years ago. She plans to do so by proving the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon responsible for the death of 45 persons over the span of four centuries. The phenomenon harbours inside an antique mirror.

The premise is what’s largely intriguing about the film. It’s one of the aspects that lends to its originality. What is also original of the film is that mirroring embodies another meaning in this film, which is engaging to me. I won’t get into it, but it’s something that contributes to some food for thought discussion of the film. The narrative is original, because what happened in Kaylie and Tim’s childhood is told basically at the same time as when they are trying to catch the mirror’s crazy activity on camera in the present day. It might sound a bit haphazard – but I assure you, writer/director Mike Flanagan (co-writing with Jeff Howard) maintain control and focus throughout. The intelligent narrative is quite a success.

The narrative is even cooler because actors of the young versions of Tim and Kaylie (Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso, respectively) get a significant amount of screen time, because it goes back and forth between old actors and the young actors. Karen Gillan is good as the controlling and motivated Kaylie. Basso acts with the same maturity as Gillan. Thwaites is good, as far as horror films go. Katee Sackoff is effective and creepy as the maternal Marie Russell, and Rory Cochrane is compelling as the paternal Alan Russell. 

It’s great when a horror film actually has a good, engaging story to tell. The characters in the film are good. Kaylie’s motivation to prove his brother’s innocence is because she is tired of being ridiculed, and people calling her brother a murderer and her father crazy. The brother did his time in a mental asylum, so this film isn’t like that movie Conviction where Hilary Swank’s character tries to prove his innocence while he’s doing his time. 

Kaylie needed her brother’s help, because this evil mirror is very testy, and going against the mirror alone would be an impossible battle to win. This makes the film a psychological horror film that is left open to interpretation, as well as a supernatural horror flick. Stupid decisions by characters should be excused because the mirror makes them think they’ve stuck together, but they really aren’t. It’s a tricky villain in this way. The meaning of the word oculus intrigues me further into the mythology of the film. The mirror screws up the character’s perception, and they see what the mirror wants them to see. Perception is a big thing in this mildly scary and very creepy feature.

These aspects make this an effective mystery. It taps into fears first explored in The Shining, and haunted artifacts. It’s atmospheric and cool, and makes viewers question throughout what is reality and what is a conjuring of the mirror’s tricky mind games. It’s a creepy film that sticks with you, especially some bloody imagery, and a good, if repetitive, score. It’s an entertaining horror film that is scary enough to give me another excuse not to eat apples and to not let an antique mirror in my house for a little while. 

Score80/100

The Lords of Salem (2013)

The Lords of SalemReleased: April 19, 2013. Directed by: Rob Zombie. Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Bruce Davison. Runtime: 101 min.

“The Lords of Salem” reminds me of the pacing that “The Sixth Sense” had – slow pacing, but it intensely builds little by little. It also reminds me of it because both don’t have a lack of special effects. Otherwise, the two films are very different. The differences take place in terms of quality; “Sixth Sense” is incredible and “Salem” is far from.

The story follows Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) an everyday radio personality, who is sent a box containing a strange record – a “gift from the Lords.” The sounds heard from the record give her intense headaches, and trigger flashbacks from the town’s violent past, dating back all the way to 1694. How does she see them when she wasn’t present? We really can’t tell. But the story raises a primary question: Is Heidi going mad, or are the Lords back to take revenge on Salem, Massachusetts?

Zombie tells this story with classic, horrific storytelling that is a homage to atmospheric flicks of the 1980’s. He really does rely on the atmospheric style of it all, making it one of those style over substance flicks. It’s about one woman’s derailment into insanity; also think “The Shining,” just not nearly as effective. Director Rob Zombie puts his wife, Sherri Moon Zombie, in the lead role as the troubled Heidi, who enjoys drugs – which I wouldn’t think to be a valid idea due to her mental state. Moon tackles the role with a subtle vacant look through a lot of the film that seldom wavers, but she’s gaining some experience. In the supporting roles, Jeff Daniel Phillips portrays Whitey, a loyal friend concerned about Heidi. Ken Foree from the original “Dawn of the Dead” is on the Salem radio station team, but isn’t nearly as present as Whitey. Bruce Davison plays the most interesting character in a novelist who feels that the music by the mysterious band called the Lords is very unsettling.

That’s precisely what the film itself is: unsettling. If that is Zombie’s intention, to merely disturb, his film is a success. But there is a difference between unsettling one’s viewers, and disgusting them – as well as making them have a sort-of “What the F$!& is going on?” face throughout. That’s the type of feeling a lot of people are going to feel throughout this film. He resorts to spooks where there are witches who show up randomly in bathrooms and kitchens, and other assorted scares. Some of it’s creepy, and the tune on the record is haunting. The pacing is too slow, and the ending too weird. There are some aspects of the film some will be able to predict; but there are some surprising turns – with the directions Zombie goes in. The directions are sometimes not enjoyable at all because they’re just so twisted. But that’s Zombie for you. His new film is just too strange and too dull, empty and boring for my tastes. The history of the Salem witch trials is interesting, and the premise that Zombie creates that if the witches actually come back is a scary idea, but the execution is just awful.

Score30/100

Hide and Seek (2005)

Hide and SeekHide and Seek

Release Date: January 28, 2005

Director: John Polson

Stars: Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen

Runtime: 101 min

Tagline: Come out come out whatever you are

Plot: As a widower tries to piece together his life in the wake of his wife’s suicide, his daughter finds solace — at first — in her imaginary friend.

Hide and Seek is too mediocre to star Robert De Niro, but he and Dakota Fanning make it tolerable. One doesn’t really know if it’s a ghost story or just an eerie stalker story, all we know it’s psychological and it tries very hard to be creepy. The flashback dream sequence that De Niro has often is strange, and the party has a cool production like Titanic and even The Shining. This tries hard to please its audience, so much so it has four alternate endings on its DVD. If you don’t like the original ending, you’ll probably like at least one of the four other ones…

The movie is slightly bland and forgettable and sort of just moves along at a slow pace, and the town-folk are rather strange. Elisabeth Shue’s character doesn’t do much for the story, except make the mysterious imaginary friend called “Charlie” angry, making the little Emily angry, in turn. The movie does get saved by a memorable third act, but everything preceding it, is dark, often creepy, but overall boring. The ending is a good surprise, and the movie keeps you guessing.

There are a few okay scares, especially when lights flash on and off. The performances are just adequate, but the talented actors aren’t utilized well. The thing is, the characters are bland and sort-of uninteresting. They’re so lifeless that they couldn’t even care for a cat they might or might not own. The storytelling doesn’t bother to tell us if the cat is a family pet, if it’s a stray, or if it comes with the house. (I’d rather a pool if anything comes with my new house. I’m allergic to cats.) The cinematography is cool and it’s shot in an interesting fashion. The movie isn’t great and overall, it isn’t memorable; but it is eerie enough to (probably) put me on-edge if I ever play hide-n-go-seek again.

52/100

New Features

I think it’s time I got a few features on my blog.

1) Box Office Predictions: Websites like Boxofficemojo.com have estimated box office forecasts of the upcoming weekend, but I certainly won’t be as accurate as them. I’m just going to guesstimate, often based on box office scores of films like the one being released, or other projects of the cast and director or something. Sometimes I’ll be way off, sometimes I’ll be close, and sometimes I may be nearly spot on (I guess it’ll depend on how strong my shine is that day, I guess…*). You can expect my article of my estimations to be posted on Wednesday at 12:16 P.M. EST. And then on Sunday (at 12:16 P.M. EST) with the Box Office results of the new releases, and how far or how close I was to the actual results.

*The Shining reference, so like psychic abilities (in case someone didn’t catch the reference).

2) Celebrity Birthdays: I used to do celebrity birthdays on my blog, so I think it’s time I brought that back, but in a different way. I’ll post this feature on Saturday at 12:16 P.M. EST. I’ll recap the week (so Monday to Sunday) of whose birthdays it was in the celebrity world, all in one easy post. But I’ll do my favourite actors or those actors who aren’t necessarily my favourite, but I enjoy their work. I’ll highlight their finest films and the ones they’re known for, and I’ll rank the films of theirs I’ve seen from my favourite to least favourite. I’ll also want to know what your favourite film of theirs is, to make this feature more interactive. I’ll post this feature on Saturday at 12:16 P.M. EST.

Miss March (2009)

Release Date: March 13, 2009Directors: Zach Cregger, Trevor MooreStars: Zach Cregger, Trevor Moore, Craig RobinsonRuntime: 89 min.

I watched this a few months ago, and I still get nightmares from this comedy failure. What is Miss March’s problem? It isn’t very funny at all.

Eugene (Zach Cregger) is a young college guy who raises abstinence awareness, or something like that, with his pure girlfriend, Cindi. He decides that he’s ready and he wants to ‘do the deed’ with her on prom night. On the night of prom, Eugene’s best friend Tucker (Trevor Moore), a sex crazy idiot, thought having a few pre-sex alcohol shots would be a great idea. Eugene thinks it’s a great idea to walk into the basement and fall down the stairs and go into a four-year coma. When he wakes up, he gains the knowledge that Cindi Whitehall is now a Playboy cover girl. So Eugene and Tucker set on the road to the Playboy Mansion. Along the way, they’re on the run from the crazed fire-fighter brother of Tucker’s ex-girlfriend.

Jack Torrance called, he wants his axe back.

The appearances of Hugh Hefner (and when he comes in he doesn’t even look like he’s into the project; he’s not even in any of the same shots as the guys) Sara Jean Underwood, poop gags, and an extended appearance from TV’s The Office star Craig Robinson (playing a character called Horsedick.MPEG, but he couldn’t even be funny because of the poor dialogue) couldn’t even save this poorly written flick.

It isn’t funny, it isn’t memorable, the characters are annoying, and I miss the five dollars I spent to buy this garbage. There’s not one solitary good thing about this flick, and is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. If only I could erase this one from my memory; where’s that company from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when you need them?

It only gets two points for all of the sexy girls.

2/100