I enjoy horror more than most genres, but I’m fairly specific when it comes to the type of horror I enjoy. I’m not a fan of gore. I find jump scares to be effective in the moment, but am left feeling cold after the movie is over. I want horror to sit with me, to crawl under my skin and emerge when I find myself alone, or when I’m trying to go to sleep. I like being scared, as in really and truly frightened, not just freaked out.
I’m one of those people who will go on about how horror movies aren’t scary anymore. It’s all gore and grossness and blood and pushing the envelope in terms of how disgusting a murder can be portrayed. Or it’s lazy iterations and reiterations of scary dolls and serial killers. There are no surprises, only shock value. It’s gotten to the point where I wonder how such grotesqueness can be so…boring.
I will freely admit that I’m a total cliche – my favorite horror film is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. I went through a phase when I was around 11 or 12 where I kept the VHS that my mom recorded it on in the VCR in my room and every single day when I got home from school, I’d rewind it (from the day before) and watch it while I did my homework. Every. Single. Day. In hindsight, it was more than a little strange. Still, I loved it so much and never thought I’d find another movie that bewitched me as much.
Until I saw The VVitch.
With that context in mind, I’m not exaggerating even a little when I say that there is no higher compliment I can pay a film than that.
I decided I wanted to know as little as possible about The VVitch (and I’ve decided that you should too, so I’ll keep this spoiler-free) after viewing the trailer and feeling sufficiently creeped out. I read reviews that said things like “it feels like we are watching something we shouldn’t be seeing” or “I felt like I was watching something genuinely evil” and got goosebumps and was instantly sold. (Like a totally normal, well-adjusted human!) I expected to be very scared, and I was. But it was a kind of scared that I haven’t felt for a very long time.
My mother liked horror as well, and because I was so weirdly attached to The Shining, thought I might enjoy some of her favorite movies. She thought I was too young for The Exorcist, but showed me Rosemary’s Baby and Carrie and Halloween. And then she showed me the 1976 film, The Omen. I remember that one very vividly because it was the first time I felt like I was watching something evil.
My mother raised me to be Catholic, as her parents raised her to be. She went to Catholic school, church every day, confession once a week, the whole nine yards. I didn’t go to Catholic school, but to church and Sunday school every week and to confession regularly. We watched The Omen and my mom noticed about 3/4 of the way through that I was crying. Not sobbing crying, not making a sound really. Just silently weeping, with big ol’ tears rolling down my cheeks. She paused the movie and asked if I was alright and I turned to her and said “I just don’t understand why God would let all of these bad things happen to these people. Why doesn’t he stop it?”
My poor mother probably expected this question eventually regarding real life tragedies, like war or famine, but here I was, asking some of the biggest questions you can ask concerning faith about a movie she was pretty sure I would enjoy because I loved The Shining. She had no idea what to say. I remember her stammering something about faith and free will, and said that we should probably turn the movie off. I actually kind of wanted to, but said that it was okay and I wanted to see how it ended. She hesitated again, probably thinking of how that movie doesn’t exactly feature a classic ending of good guys persevering.
I thought about that viewing experience near the end of The VVitch. Only this time I wasn’t weeping; I was transfixed. I think anyone could enjoy this film, but I also think it’s a different experience for a religious audience, no matter deep your faith lies. Even if you only believed once upon a time. Several scenes throughout left me with the same feelings I read about, like I was watching something genuinely evil. I felt like I was intruding on a real family and the terrible things happening to them. One scene in particular nearly inspired me to cross myself.
But I found myself rooting for the ending as it happened, feeling at once like it was tragic and somehow happy and the only way the film could possibly have ended. When the question, “woulds’t thou like to live deliciously?” is asked, I actually, literally whispered “yes.” Out loud.
God, eleven year old Kelley would be appalled.
Did you see The VVItch? VVhat did you think?