Sunday, March 6, 2016

Film Review: The Witch

Photo Credit: The Witch Theatrical Trailer
Dear Reader,      

Robert Egger's film The Witch, still in theaters, is a powerful and terrifying depiction of life in the American woods of New England during the 1630s. While the film does not portray historical events or claim to, it masterfully captures its setting.   Although the film is slightly outside the purview of this blog, it deserves a mention, for like 12 Years A Slave, the filmmakers worked tirelessly to capture the setting.

The film portrays a Puritan family, who must deal with the inhospitable New England landscape in isolation from the larger plantation. In this course of this journey, they encounter their own fears, as well as threats from supernatural forces. This is not a film for the faint of heart.

Particularly, Ralph Ineson's portrayal of the struggling pater familis strikes at the heart of authentic 17th century fears. Ineson's distinctive voice, but more than that, his mastery of original pronunciation makes the setting come alive. The film's postscript makes it clear that it does not intent to portray historical events, but draws on folktales in order to be true to the period. Indeed, Egger has taken much of the dialogue from period sources.

17th century Christianity is at the heart of this film in almost every way. Fears about female sexuality, interaction with native peoples, and social alienation from other Europeans also play into the film, which made the graduate student part of me quite pleased. Early modern agriculture and family life are dealt with in a believable fashion, and the film's use of Canadian old growth forest captures the look of 1600s New England

I cannot speak to the accuracy of the films material culture in comprehensive detail, however, all clothes appeared to be handsewn, and Wampanoag and European male material culture seemed to fitting the setting in my eyes.

If more directors attempted to pursue films set in the past with less amount of commitment to detail, perhaps historians would view hollywood with less disdain.

Thanks for Reading,