Saw a Takashi Miike picture called The Great Yokai War. "Yokai" is a Japanese term for monsters from folklore, as opposed to the more familiar kaiju. It's a kids' picture, about a young boy from Tokyo sent out to live in the countryside with his older sister and his intermittently senile grandfather. When a vengeful spirit appears, the boy gets caught up in a war between warring groups of yokai and must find his courage to become the "Kirin Rider", the hero who will set everything to rights. It's not a bad picture - nothing deep, but an amusing story. Some of the yokai are really trippy, Japanese folklore can get pretty "out there", apparently.

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I just watched The Witch, thanks to the discussion here. I liked it, and thought the slow build had a good payoff. The ending worked for me.

JD DeLuzio said:



I wrote this review of The Witch when it first came out:

Given her popularity at Halloween, in kid and YA culture (The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter), and in productions of Macbeth, the witch has been surprisingly scarce in the horror movie.1 Certainly, she makes far fewer appearances than vampire, zombie, werebeast, mad slasher, or lab-made monster.

The most discussed horror film of 2016 makes some amends by casting the traditional witch as its villain. As of this writing, The Witch has an overwhelmingly positive reputation among critics at Rotten Tomatoes-- and barely 60% approval among general audiences. Why has this film cast a spell on some, while leaving others feeling burnt?

Certainly, a film for an audience that occupies the Venn overlap among horror fans, history buffs, and festival hipsters will not appeal to everyone. The period dialect alone will alienate some viewers. Ultimately, however, I believe The Witch leads its audience to a place where not everyone wants to or even can follow.

The story takes place in the early 1600s. An isolated New England family, two of whose children have entered adolescence, experience social, psychological, religious, and supernatural malignancies. We're drawn into a worldview and world long dead. The actors speak period English, and affirm the characters' beliefs with beguiling sincerity. The mise en scène has been skillfully created, and blends natural detail with nightmarish apparitions. The imagery has been drawn from actual historic sources, testimony imagined, elicited, and coerced regarding the doings of witches. Once we accept the situation, The Witch slowly destroys the characters' understanding of their world, as it asks us to question ours.

Although the film features literal witches, the plagues that beset the family start long before the first supernatural visitation, and may suggest different social and psychological evils to different viewers. Brother Caleb, for example (and, just possibly, father William) take a little too much interest in eldest daughter Thomasin's burgeoning sexuality. After the disappearance of the family's youngest, the members of the family wonder if Thomasin has signed a pact with Satan. We know she hasn't-- but, given the choices she faces, we start to wonder if maybe that isn't her best option.

The film has been cast perfectly, a fact made more remarkable by the number of young people, and the challenges of period dialect. Teenage Anya Taylor-Joy stands out as doubting Thomasin. And while the rest of the family rightly have been lauded by critics for their emotionally-resonant performances, Bathsheba Garnett feels disturbingly real in her few appearances. (I am also somewhat curious how on earth Eggers directed young Harvey Scrimshaw in the scene where he relives his film-mother's erotic dreams about Jesus. That had to be a difficult one to fly to an adolescent boy).

The film moves slowly, and grows increasingly tense and disturbing. Writer/director Sam Eggers and his crew make excellent and restrained use of (mainly, at least) physical effects, and the soundscape definitely adds to the film's disturbing atmosphere. The Witch prefers to gradually invade its viewers' minds, making only minimal use of gore and jump-scares. It then ends with a conclusion that has become a topic of some controversy.

I actually like the ending. The film draws much of its power by taking early colonial American beliefs about witchcraft at their word. Yes, a less literal script might have been more effective but, given its premise, there were few other ways the film could finish.

But many viewers will find the conclusion, both literal and ambivalent, disappointing. The matinee group with whom I shared the theatre were less enthusiastic than most critics have been, and two women actually stalked afterwards through the lobby loudly telling complete strangers not to see The Witch, and assuring the bewildered teenage concession clerks that the film "isn't their fault."

The Witch will provoke such reactions.

 

Written and directed by Sam Eggers

Cast

Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin 

Ralph Ineson as William

Kate Dickie as Katherine

Harvey Scrimshaw as Caleb

Ellie Grainger as Mercy

Lucas Dawson as Jonas

Bathsheba Garnett as the Old Witch

Sarah Stephens as the Young Witch

Julian Richings as Governor

Wahab Chaudhry as Black Phillip

Some Old Goat as Black Phillip

 

1. The silent era gave us Häxan aka The Witches aka Witchcraft Through the Ages. Hammer Studios briefly tapped the genre in the 1960s, while the YA crowd had The Craft in the 1990s. The Blair Witch Project seems like it should count, though its central monster (apart from nausea-inducing camerawork) acts more like a malignant spirit.

Part of the problem lies in determining which films qualify. Do Satanic cult flicks, such as Rosemary's Baby count as witch movies? I also wonder about the various incarnations of Carrie and Ringu, movies depicting the popular concept of a witch in all but name.

aptain Comics said:

Watched The Witch. I liked it, but I probably would have liked it more had it been subtitled. Not only was the dialogue in stilted old English, but the rhythm and cadence was, I assume, also from five centuries ago -- questions spoken as statements, anger spoken in monotone, and so forth.....

I can't speak for everyone, but it was a satisfying denouement for me.

Watched Conspiracy last night, about the Nazi meeting that produced the "Final Solution" during World War II. It starred Kenneth Branagh (with dyed-blonde hair), Colin Firth and, weirdly, Tom Hiddleston in a minor role (he was very young).

Basically, it was about the banality of evil, as Gen. Heydrich bullied everyone out of any subtlety and just taking a hammer -- or rather, the gas chamber -- to "the Jewish problem." It was like a really uncomfortable office staff meeting where there's an imbalance of power and the 800-lb. gorilla is going to press you until you swallow your pride and agree that his idea is brilliant and you support it 100 percent. I think we were supposed to be surprised at a heel turn by Colin Firth, but that's just a guess -- really, this was Branagh's movie, just as it was his character's meeting, and it suffered when he wasn't cheerfully rolling over everyone with a smile.

I didn't really enjoy it. I think I would have a few years ago, surprised and shocked by how people can roll over and be evil just to further their own careers. But that was before I saw it happening in real life, as the GOP is falling all over itself to kiss Trump's ass, even going after Constitution-defending ethics officers on their own initiative to curry favor with the Dear Leader.

You may disagree with my assessment, and that's fine. But from my perspective, the GOP has gleefully embraced fascism in the form an orange buffoon, and this movie just looks like more of the same boring, banal evil that has already taken over our country.

So I didn't much enjoy the movie.



Captain Comics said:

You may disagree with my assessment...

Nope.

Watched Blair Witch (the reboot/remake/sequel). I guess it says something that I made it to the end. Apparently I'm one of the few that actually liked the original Blair Witch movie. I think the most effective horror usually leaves a little bit of mystery and doesn't spell things out for the viewer. Usually we can imagine something much more horrifying than what a director can put up on the screen. For that reason I feel like this new Blair Witch movie makes a big mistake in trying to explain what happened in the original. On top of that, it's kind of dull and repetitive and resorts to too many jump scares.

My complaint about the original Blair Witch Project is that the three principals were so irritating and so incredibly stupid that I was rooting for them to die.

The remake repeats one of the more annoying aspects of the original: people running around in the dark with cameras, yelling each other's names over and over again.

ME, last October:

The Blair Witch Project created a genre1 Since its release, found footage horror movies have become as much a part of horror and Halloween viewing as vampires, serial killers, and mediocre sequels. The movie's 1999 marketing, meanwhile, demonstrated the power of the Internet to create phenomena and convince people fantasy was real.

Seventeen years later, and nearly twenty after the original film supposedly took place, the Witch receives a sequel.2

After seeing online footage that suggests Heather Donahue remains alive, somewhere in the Black Hills of Maryland, her much younger brother and his film-school friends head out to find her. Along the way, they team up with the couple who posted the footage.

As you might imagine, the plan does not end well.

Someone will later find their footage, too, scattered around the forest.

The film features better acting and production values than the original, and it ups the ante on found footage. It's 2016; these lost filmmakers have multiple cameras, including a GoPro drone. Hand-held cameras aren't nearly as shaky these days, and you're less likely to experience nausea from the movement while watching.

Despite the changes to film technology and style, the sequel maintains the beats of the original, amplified by Hollywood and lightly mixed with hints of the Ely Kedward's most intriguing descendant, Marble Hornets. The sequel could not hope to match the conceptual purity of the original, but it needed to find some other way to establish itself. To blatant imitation The Blair Witch adds modern special effects, jump scares, and a quasi-visible witch: everything the first film was lauded for avoiding.

And forget suggested horror: this film gives us a (briefly) visible Blair Witch capable of manipulating time and space. The characters quickly find themselves wandering an endless night and finally arriving at a house no one has been able to find in years of searching. When the adversary can do pretty much anything, and you already know everyone or nearly everyone will die, it is hard to feel any real suspense regarding the outcome.

A house-related sequence near the end briefly creates the horror and intensity the film clearly intended to create more often. Otherwise, we have better-quality found footage of hipsters wandering around the forest, under much more extreme circumstances. *SPOILER* Potentially interesting ideas get dropped. A red herring plot suggesting the group's newfound local associates gets dropped a little too quickly, rather than exploited for its potential. *SPOILER*

The Blair Witch, in the end, is neither groundbreaking nor especially scary. It's also not a bad movie, per se: just not terribly interesting. And the last reaction a horror movie wants is a heartfelt "meh."

 

1. A handful of fake found footage horrors predate the original Blair Witch Project, which certainly mainstreamed the genre. Cannibal Holocaust (1980) may be the first, and it also generated publicity by suggesting it consisted of real found footage. Even earlier, Snuff (1975) traded on rumours of "Snuff Films" by including a section that purported to be actual footage of a killing. By all accounts (I have not seen the movie), the scene is not only faked, but badly faked.

2. The original film's lore establishes that something Blair-witchy happens about every twenty years.


I haven't seen either Blair Witch movie, but I suspect the dropping of the interesting local associates angle was to trim the movie to 1 1/2 hours. The shorter it is, the more showings, the more money raked in.

Then they sell the DVD and later a Director's Cut DVD.

Watched The Last Man on Earth (1964) last night. It features Vincent Price in a rare non-heel role in an adaptation of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend".

I always thought The Last Man on Earth captured the eerie feel of the novel much better than the big budget version. In fact, the low budget may have actually helped in representing the lonely isolation of Price's character.

The Baron said:

Watched The Last Man on Earth (1964) last night. It features Vincent Price in a rare non-heel role in an adaptation of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend".

BLAIR WITCH: I saw this on VHS somewhat after the Fact, along with an accompanying “documentary” VHS. It was a unique film at the time and I enjoyed it, but I never watched it a seond time although I own it. I don’t think anyone has mentioned it yet, but there has already been a Blair Witch sequel, just a run-of-the-mill teenage slasher-type film.

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH: I have never read I am Legend (I know, I should), but I acquired The Last Man on Earth as part of a “vampire” DVD set when I was accumulating Hammer Studios’ “Dracula” films. I lile the way the undead were portrayed in this film, kind of part vampire, part zombie.

Finally saw Rogue 1 at the theater over the weekend.

On DVD we watched the three re-booted Star Trek movies over three consecutive nights.

Tomorrow night, we’re going to see Singin’ in the Rain at the theater.

Watched U-571 a couple of nights ago, about disguised American submariners boarding a German U-boat and swiping the Enigma machine. Since none of that happened -- the British did the job before America was even in the war -- it was kinda hard to swallow. But at least Matthew McConaughey -- who was the lead -- disappeared into his role. He often plays Matthew McConaughey, a character I don't much care for.

Also in the movie were Bill Paxton ("Game over, dude!"), Harvey Keitel and, believe it or not, Jon Bon Jovi in a minor role.

The Last Man on Earth was also my favorite of the three movie adaptations. The Omega Man was the poorest of the three. I had read the book I Am Legend before seeing any of the movies and was (pleasantly) blindsided by the protagonist not being the hero he thought he was.

doc photo said:

I always thought The Last Man on Earth captured the eerie feel of the novel much better than the big budget version. In fact, the low budget may have actually helped in representing the lonely isolation of Price's character.

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