The Witch is being shown again on Film 4, on Thursday 16 April at 11.20pm, and I urge you to watch it – or to record it, if it would freak you out too much in the long, dark hours of the night.
Early adopters of this blog were horrified that I reviewed the film in one of my first posts. As an atheist – not even a Pagan - I’m only interested in witchcraft insofar as the whole concept is used to demonise women – particular wise women with knowledge of herbal remedies, and girls on the cusp of womanhood.
The Witch isn’t a film to give you thrills ‘n’ chills. It’s a subtle film about the horrors of that hinterland occupied by Calvinism and devilry, and the thin, unstable line that oscillates between them.
A family is cast out from their Puritan American community for wrong thinking; the father has stubbornly refused to recant. They are banished to the edge of the forest – to the frontier they believe is the line between God’s kingdom and that of the Devil. As a lone family, will they be able to hold the line?
They have no choice but self-sufficiency. The teenager at the heart of the film is reliant, along with her siblings, on her parents’ farming expertise to keep her alive. The first crop of sweetcorn is spoilt by a greenish mouldy fungus, but eat it they must. And that is a clue: the fungus is a potent hallucinogen, and what follows lies in the liminal world between Calvinist magical thinking and insanity.
I’m drawn to the film again because I’m just finishing Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and The Light. The book is extraordinary in so many ways but, for me, Thomas Cromwell’s imagined inner monologue lacks the fervency of Protestant belief as it must have been then. He is clearly driven by all kinds of motives, but where is the agonising religious passion? Where is the genuine terror of Hell, or the rapturous anticipation of Heaven? Missing. That is the gap plugged by The Witch.
If you want to catch a glimpse of fundamentalist magical thinking, I urge you to watch it.
Read more about The Witch here
Buy the DVD of The Witch