Review: ‘The Witch’ offers complex themes, frights

(This review first appeared in the Daily Lobo, and can be viewed here.) 

 

At first watch, there isn’t much meat on the bones of Robert Eggers’ “The Witch.” On a superficial level – thanks to its incredibly simple premise, small production scale and what could be interpreted as an ambiguous ending – it’s a skeleton of a movie, with small bits of flesh clinging to its ribs in the form of the occasional jump scare.

Don’t fall into that trap. It’s easy to think that the final product far outweighs the expectations that a horror lover may have for “The Witch,” but you’d be doing yourself a disservice in the process.

So how do you get the most out of the film, and experience it the way Eggers intended the audience to?

Step 1: Don’t go into “The Witch” thinking of it as a horror movie, but rather a period drama.

In a vein similar to how “Silence of the Lambs” is viewed by many cinephiles as a drama rather than a straight fright flick, watching “The Witch” through a lens that doesn’t call for scares, but rather deep examination of the themes that Eggers sets forth, will help moviegoers appreciate it much more.

Of course, there are horror elements here. The film is chilling throughout, the themes of paranoia, the occult and isolation manifesting themselves in ways that assures the audience is never really at ease.

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But at its core, “The Witch” is an analysis of 1600s Puritan America, and the overzealous sensibilities of its religiously devout and fanatical society. When viewing the movie in that way, it becomes a film with exponentially more depth, its statements on the dangers of physical and psychological isolation at the forefront and, yes, manifested in a titular witch.

Step 2: Prepare to be uncomfortable.

Eggers is merciless in the methods he utilizes to make the audience feel as uneasy as the family experiencing more and more supernatural occurrences. It’s not as much cringeworthy, nor is it perpetually eerie for the sake of being eerie. And while there aren’t any A-listers in the film, the cast is plenty powerful with their performances as the on-screen family becomes more and more distant. Anya Taylor-Joy in particular shines in a convincingly distressing performance, one that hopefully gets her many more offers for other dramatic roles.

From the intimate cinematography to the score reminiscent of a creeping, hooded danger following us on a lonely road at night, “The Witch” excels at providing a very different level of fright. The film mimics a slow, energy-draining ride to the top of a roller-coaster with your eyes closed – the audience knows a drop is coming, and a big one, but not quite when.

It’s a decidedly unorthodox type of horror, one that won’t work for those seeking superficial jump scares. But taken on a metaphysical level in tandem with the film’s motifs and themes, it all works together to create a symphony of dread, right up until the moment when it all comes to a head, and real blood is shed.

In a movie full of many tricks and underlying meanings, perhaps none is bigger than the family’s goat, Black Phillip. Without giving away too much (and believe me, it’s hard not to), Black Phillip represents what might be the most uneasy but majestically dark use of an animal in recent film history. He’s memorable, to say the least, and it’s easy to see him becoming an icon in the genre.

“The Witch” won’t please everyone. Indeed, the majority of movie watchers probably wouldn’t understand what makes it so appealing to others. Multiple viewings would certainly help, as would the understanding that sometimes the things that are implied in a film can keep you up at night as much as any slasher movie could.

 

“The Witch” is rated R for disturbing violent content and graphic nudity

Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie 

Directed by Robert Eggers

2015

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Small business owners fear Rapid Transit system will kill businesses

This story originally appeared in the Daily Lobo on February 15, 2015, and can be viewed here

Now that nearly $70 million in federal funding has been approved for Mayor Richard Berry’s passion project, it’s full steam ahead on a new bus rapid transit system that will run down Central Avenue from Unser to Tramway Boulevard.

However, many small business owners along the proposed route believe the Albuquerque Rapid Transit, or ART, spells an end to their shops, as well as the quirky personality of the Nob Hill area in particular.

“I’m thankful for living in a country where I don’t go to jail for fighting my government, but on the other hand, I shouldn’t have to fight my government. So that’s what we’re doing…because they’re not listening to us,” said Steve Schroeder, owner of Nob Hill Music.

Joe Annabi, manager of Astro-Zombies comic book store on Central — one of many businesses sporting a “No Albuquerque Rapid Transit” banner — said local politicians have downplayed the side effects of ART, including higher traffic congestion along the corridor, and are now denying the possibility of consequences from the new system.

“They care about having a lasting legacy in their final run in office,” Annabi said. “It’s going to be … a big drain on the city. Local business should be a part of local culture and should be on the minds of all politicians, but it’s not.”

Berry, who at a Friday press conference said ART is awaiting approval from the FTA, said the project has been in the works for five years and it could ultimately bring in $2 to 3 billion.

On a larger scale, Berry said the $119 million project is, in essence, the culmination of his transportation agenda, which included keeping Uber in Albuquerque and increasing bike trails.

“We’re talking about the next logical step,” he said, adding that it will be the gold standard for bus rapid transit in the country.

Pending FTA approval, construction will start in May, with plans to finish in late 2017. But many along the route are pessimistic that their business will survive that long.

Susan Ricker’s Off Broadway Vintage Clothing and Costumes has been in business for 32 years, and despite overcoming a fire in 2000, she said ART is the biggest threat her store has seen.

“I really don’t think they want (car) traffic on Central anymore, which goes against the beauty of Route 66,” she said.

Ricker said there is nothing quite like the Nob Hill portion of Route 66, which is traditionally renowned as a car corridor. She said she believes the project is built on ego, an attempt by Berry to secure his legacy before he leaves office, regardless of the opinions held by those whom ART will affect most.

“It’s obvious…we really don’t have a voice. Our voice doesn’t matter,” she said.

In fact, she said, the vast majority of business owners she has talked to share her sentiments, save for a mere pair who are in favor.

Schroeder’s experience was similar, as he said out of over 200 businesses he has talked to, only six are pro-ART.

After finding out many other businesses owners shared his opinion of ART, he formed savert66.org, where visitors can find updates about the project and a letter of petition to sign.

Schroeder said he believes ART would affect the integrity of the area, as well as tourism to the longest stretch of Route 66 in the country.

He said recently-elected City Councilor Pat Davis arranged meetings for public input, only to refrain from asking small business owners a single question.

“Pretty consistently the city has been lying in every place. But we’re a very small entity and we don’t have money, so we can’t broadcast like the mayor can,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder said the city is rushing the project, likening the mayor’s attitude regarding ART to the rhetoric surrounding the Titanic.

“They said ‘I’ve got an unsinkable ship.’ Well that’s the same with Captain Berry and the USS City of Albuquerque. He wants to get there in a hurry and he’s not paying attention,” he said. “There are just so many unanswered questions.”

Schroeder said he expects to be out of business before ART is completed.

Not all Nob Hill businesses are hesitant about ART. At Berry’s press conference, O’Niell’s Restaurant owner Robert Munro said new amenities, including better landscaping and wider sidewalks, will help pedestrianism in the area.

“I’m excited for this project, especially in Nob Hill (where) we have grand opportunities that ART is going to help us with,” he said.

David Silverman of Geltmore, LLC said ART is just the first part of a long-term plan for the area.

“We have a great opportunity in this community to plan for the future,” Silverman said. “A lot of other cities have gone this direction, and they’ve experienced much success because of it.”

Berry said one lane will always be open during construction.

According to route renderings on brtabq.com, ART will take Central down to one lane in each direction from just west of Bryn Mawr Drive to San Mateo Boulevard. From University Boulevard to that point west of Bryn Mawr, Central will be two lanes.

Annabi said although he is all for public transit, he has yet to receive answers justifying ART.

He said he doesn’t see how ART is going to be a substantial improvement over the two current systems — Rapid Ride and the city bus. He said remarks made about ART’s efficacy reminded him of the things being said about the Rapid Ride.

“I don’t know what the difference is other than they’re going to make this into a less functional road,” he said. “Reducing it from two to one lane in each direction is going to be a huge killer for the usability of this road.”

He said he is worried about the visibility of businesses, but also the space in the area that is needed for popular events like the Twinkle Light Parade and Summerfest.

The city raised signs along Central marking likely spots of future ART stations almost immediately after federal funding was approved.

Annabi said he believes that to be suspicious, and that the installations served as an omen for what it will be like to commute Central alongside a completed ART.

David Lynch is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at managingeditor@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.