The Witch, “Indie Arthouse Horror” And Our Obsession With Overclassification

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the gallows

Hell, here’s a comparison point: WB’s The Gallows opened with $9,808,463 on about 700 more screens – only about a million more than The Witch. Eggers’ success should lead to future filmmakers gambling more on passion projects, and prove to similar distributors that “indie” and “arthouse” flicks can survive the big bad theater world given proper coddling, and nurturing. Exciting times, right? Dreams about a future where smaller films can find mainstream attention should be a focus due to recent events, but, instead, we’re stuck debating whether The Witch is actually a horror movie (which it absolutely is). Because that’s what’s important here. Apparently.

This brings me to the ranty part of this editorial, in which I discuss the trial of Eggers’ satanic sensation. Or, at least try.

While I’m not one to claim that The Witch necessitates a certain kind of intellect for appreciation, I will say it’s a different kind of horror film. One with gritty, sharp teeth that are rarely exposed. The brand of terror here is noose-tightening, colonial paranoia, where reality and imagination become indistinguishable.

Oh, this isn’t a horror movie? Like all your other “college kids go to a secluded cabin where the woods turn out to be haunted” movies are any different? Thomasin’s family lives in complete isolation, with zero security, and find themselves surrounded by thickets of pitch-black woods where God-knows-what could reside. Fuck, just being ALIVE in the colonial era becomes a horror movie at night, where nature, man, or anything else could kill you with ease. It’s not slash-your-throat-with-a-machete “horror,” but, can you really argue against Satanic possession, murder and a constant feeling of morose dread?

Horror is such an immensely malleable genre, to the point where hybrids and mashups can be chosen randomly from a hat. A movie like Spring – a romantic creature feature – is that horror? A comedy like Deathgasm that’s more joke-y than scary – is that horror? But, even better -WHY DOES IT MATTER? It’s almost as if horror fans WANT to be the first to start controversy, refusing to accept change in a genre that’s thrived on adaptation.

80s slashers gave way to metaphysical, self-aware horror in the 90s, then torture porn/gore reared its ugly head in the 2000s, and now we’re seeing a more elevated type of genre film where attention to story and performance brings about cinematic beauty that otherwise might have been ignored. Cinema, as a whole, is always evolving, which should excite viewers. Could you imagine if there were 30 Friday the 13th sequels by now, instead of just, like, 20?!

Yet qualms of being “duped by fake horror” are crying foul on Eggers. “You didn’t make the horror movie I was expecting” kind of complaints, essentially. Baseless, nonsense arguments that prove how little audiences enjoy challenging, more insightful horrors. These are complaints of unwarranted expectations not being met, and an overall lack of interest from audiences hoping for the next Scream.

In these scenarios, The Witch was doomed from the start, never standing a chance against a type of viewer who fears, and rejects change. Unfairly, to the credit of Eggers. It’s essentially letting someone have their cake, eat it, spit it out, and go “well not that cake.” It feels more and more like the masses are judging entire movements instead of specific films, with The Witch being the latest unfortunate victim.

the-witch-trailer

Horror itself is about accepting outcasts and giving a home to those who wander down different paths. To dismiss The Witch for being subtly spooky contradicts feelings of camaraderie that come along with adventures into the darkest reaches of a filmmaker’s imagination. Those who refuse to accept The Witch into a horror classification are no doubt the same people who bitch about remakes, denounce mainstream horror, and droll on and on about how the genre is dying.

Nothing will ever be good enough, because, well – I don’t have a clue. Internet culture, possibly? Everyone has a voice now, and, unfortunately, that means a handful of distractions will continually detract from otherwise joyous occasions. We live in a world of haters, and it’s becoming harder to mute negativity by the day.

By demanding that a movie like The Witch not be labeled as horror, you’re simply saying “Horror is about kills, gore, and on-screen murderers.” Case closed. You’ve boiled down the genre into the stereotypical classification of so many naysayers.

For years, I’ve argued that horror is anything BUT slit throats, leaky entrails, and gratuitous displays of violence. These details surely help heighten certain moments, but aspects like storytelling and authenticity are crucial lynchpins (something Eggers confidently delivers).

Horror excites, and gives filmmakers an incomparable voice for darker, more poetic stories – or grants them a medium where maximum depravity can lead to extreme fun. There will always be negative examples, but horror is so, SO much more than what my mom would describe as, “Eww, GROSS! WHY DO YOU WATCH THIS!”

That’s only if a movie like The Witch qualifies as horror, though (WHICH IT DOES).

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