It is October—the month of Hallowe’en, which means here at Trent Film Society, we are serving up some spooky fall-time fun! We kicked things off with the controversial film, The Devils (1971) and we are following it up with New England folktale The Witch (2015). The film marks the directorial debut of filmmaker Robert Eggers. It tells the story of an ostracized family as they make a new and secluded home for themselves in the New England countryside. However, there seems to be something sinister lurking in the nearby woods. Strange occurrences begin to befall the family; slowly and simply at first, like lost items and children talking to imaginary friends. But soon, the family comes to suspect that something supernatural is happening.
This slow-burn horror film does a stellar job of constructing an overwhelming sense of dread as paranoia overtakes the family. Harkening back to the Salem Witch Trials, the film captures the spirit of superstition and religious fanaticism that fostered the persecution of suspected witches in 17th century Massachusetts.
Pitting friend against friend, neighbour against neighbour, sister against sister, a terrified paranoia swept through the countryside as people made claims about seeing each other fly through the night, turn into animals and sign the devil’s book. While accusations initially pointed the finger at servants—people who brought spiritual beliefs and religious practices from elsewhere—it didn’t take long for the accusations to target the rest of the community and soon, no one was safe. The strange mixing of superstitious fear and real-world consequences caused a panic in Massachusetts. Within a year, more than two hundred people were accused of witchcraft and twenty were executed.
If one were unlucky enough to be accused, they were placed in jail. However, these tiny cells did not come cheaply, and their families would have to pay “rent” for the duration of the accused’s stay. If one confessed to witchcraft, they would be publically executed. However, if one did not confess, they were subject to torture until they did. Once a confession was uttered, the “witch” lost all of their family’s money, resources and land. Famously, Giles Corey was accused of witchcraft and refused to confess in order to prevent seizure of his family’s land. Corey was sentenced to “pressing”, a form of torture in which a piece of wood is placed upon the accused’s body and a growing number of heavy rocks were placed on top of the wood until the person plead guilty. Giles Corey, when asked to confess, famously shouted, “more weight!” He perished without confessing, meaning that his family kept their land and resources. Unfortunately, most families did not.
This dark piece of history demonstrates the power of superstition. Seemingly sensible people, when confronted with the unknown, committed vile atrocities upon one another for the sake of the purification of their community. Egger’s film The Witch portrays this atmosphere with stunning attention to detail. The costumes, the music, the sets; everything works in perfect unity to construct an eerie feeling of discomfort that builds tension, fear and dread. As the film progresses, the audience begins to question what they see and what they know, as the truth becomes as intangible as the pervading sense of doom surrounding the film’s narrative. Critics have praised Egger for this effect. Drew McWeeny says, “It feels like we are watching something that we shouldn’t be seeing.” Though I think that Peter Travers put it best when he said: “Be warned: This film will scare the hell out of you!”
Join us on Wednesday, October 12th at 8pm at Market Hall for our FREE screening of The Witch (2015). Also, check out our big event for October; we are doing the Time Warp again and bringing you The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) at Market Hall on October 19th.
This is an audience participation screening of the film, so bring your props and dress up in costume to win a prize! Additionally, we will be further entertained by a live shadowcast acting out your favourite songs and scenes from the film. Do you want to join the shadowcast? Send us an email at [email protected] to get involved!