Monday, January 13, 2020

Best Horror of 2019

As 2019 came to a close and I review my list of favorite horror movies, one thing is clear, the world of horror cinema is as strong as ever. This year saw a wide variety of theatrical releases - really great remakes, the directorial returns of gifted storytellers, the continuation of popular franchises, and a few surprise indie hits. Not to mention the absolute wonderland of On Demand and Streaming movies that came to Shudder and Netflix and pay services. I tend to dig deep into the world of contemporary horror and watch anything and everything. A few popular movies slipped past me at the time of this post - Parasite and Doctor Sleep. I know these two movies are on most everyone's top of lists and maybe they would take the place of one or two of mine would I have seen them. Maybe not. Neither Midsommar or The Lighthouse made my favorites this year. I'm not a big fan of subtle horror, I'm more of an ax in the face kind of girl. To each their own.

15.) Hole in the Ground

I'm not one for kid-driven horror movies. The kids are whiny and the parents are dismissive. They're generally in the "Fresh Start" subgenre which might be the most tired trope of all. But The Hole in the Ground was a solidly freaky flick with super moody atmosphere, genuine jump scares, and really unsettling imagery. The kid's "kidness" is understated and the mom is a believer right away which means we waste no time getting to the meat of the story. And the ending. Well, it's balls-out crazy and is the extra something that makes it stand apart from its dullard counterparts.

14.) Polaroid

It's no secret that I'm a sucker for a fun teen scream. And Polaroid is like Final Destination meets Shutter. A perfect mashup of the scary and the ridiculous. There are some pretty intense kills and some clever deduction by our main characters when it comes to trying to best the badie. Polaroid isn't going to win any awards but it's a damn good time which honestly, is all that I want in my horror movie.

13.) US

I'm just as surprised as you are that US is so far down on my list of favorites of the year. I know that I really, really liked it. It's freaky and bloody and it gives a good chase. Maybe the ending loosened its grip on me. I need to watch it a few more times to really get a solid hold on everything that went down in that last half hour. But it's a great movie and one hell of a thrill ride.

12.) Pledge

The Pledge came out of nowhere for me. It presents as your standard secret society with sinister intentions movie and then hits it out of the park as a gruesome tale of endurance and survival. This isn't exactly torture porn but it skirts the line pretty closely and will only be enjoyed by viewers who can withstand some uncomfortable violence.

11.) Haunt

You've been here before. Trapped in a haunted house as you begin to realize that the scares are real and your friends are dying one by one. No one behind the masks are here to help you. They're here to watch you suffer. And suffer you do. Haunt takes this popular trope and puts its own spin on it, making it freshly terrifying and wonderfully gruesome.

10.) 47 Meters Down: Uncaged

Now here's a movie I had absolutely no interest in watching until it was playing on the screen in front of me and I was riveted. Like any great creature feature it has the fearsome, unstoppable beast, but it also has the suffocating claustrophobia of movies like The Descent and The Cave, and yet it's a non-stop adrenaline rush like any great action movie. Also, it ticks all my boxes: beautiful teens on a road trip to a secluded off-the-grid location to explore some underwater ancient ruins overrun with (also ancient) sharks and then John Corbett. I mean, that alone will do me.

9.) Ready or Not

After her bewitching performances in The Babysitter and Mayhem, I will watch Samara Weaving in damn near anything, let alone in a movie where she runs around a mansion in a a torn wedding dress and yellow converse shoes playing the deadliest hide and seek game in history. The humor was unexpected and well placed as was the gore. And of the course the ending, where we finally discover if the curse is real or rumor, is wonderfully priceless. Weaving's warbley scream still haunts me in the dead of night. 

8.) Sweetheart

There aren't enough great creature features in this world so when a movie like Sweetheart catches me by surprise I'm absolutely delighted. This is a straightforward survival movie about a woman who washes ashore a small island after a boating accident and soon discovers she's not alone. The title of this movie is a brilliant play on the condescending and belittling nickname our main character is given, despite the fact that she's a complete badass. The creature itself is an awesome creation of old and new ideas, giving birth to something powerful and terrifying.

7.) The Furies

A handful of women wake up in the middle of the woods only to realize they're being hunted by terrifying masked men. Sounds basic enough. But the execution, that's where the horrible beauty of it all is rooted. This is a bloody, toothless, torn lip scream of a movie. It's a disemboweled, ax in the face kind of romp. But wow, is it well done. Some of the long shots in this movie are gruesomely gorgeous.

6.) The Wind

Much like The Witch, The Wind has that unsettling middle-of-nowhere quiet dread of isolation and illusion. The acting is superb and even in the most simple of scenes there's something just off center enough to feel wrong and strange. I'm loving the reinvigorated interest in prairie horror and look forward to what this sub-genre will offer in the coming years.

5.) Escape Room

As much as I love a low budget indie horror gem, I also love a big budget shiny mainstream horror movie, and Escape Room is just that. What promises to be the first in a potential franchise, this Escape Room succeeded where so many of its predecessors failed. Compelling characters fill a state-of-the-art maze of escape rooms, besting the system by working together to solve impossible puzzles. The deaths aren't all that creative but they still make an impact on the audience as the rooms get harder and more dangerous. I'm not sure I care about the big bad mastermind but I'll reserve judgement for the next installment slated for release later this year.

4.) Annabelle Comes Home

Well, it's no secret that I love The Conjuring world and all its constitutes. Not every movie is a great one but the beauty of the franchise is that they're all quite different from one another but maintain a similar tone. The new Annabelle movie is essentially a haunted house teen scream set in the '60s. It's fun and scary and gives us a wonderful insight into Judy Warren, an important character in The Conjuring world but before now, not a very fleshed out one. Unlike its predecessors this Annabelle movie doesn't seem to expand upon the Annabelle lore, and instead it's more like a day in the life of The Warren house and all of the dangers that could befall them.

3.) IT Chapter 2

I really liked IT Chapter 1, I thought it was scary and fun, but I didn't love it. Something about watching kids carry a horror movie makes it feel like a horror movie for kids. I know it's not necessarily true, but that's what it feels like. So when I went to see Chapter 2 (now starring adults!) it just felt EPIC. Like, impossibly layered and scary and nuanced and terrifying and emotional and ... wow. I look forward to watching both back to back and revisiting my thoughts on both as a whole.

2.) Crawl

Full disclosure, Crawl was my number one pick of 2019 until recently, so it feels a little weird knocking it down to #2 but here we are. Crawl - extreme weather, alligators (a lot of alligators), a fearless heroine, a family dog, and a lot of edge-of-your-seat tension. It's simple, it's brilliant, it's perfection.

1.) One Cut of the Dead

I'm not going to link a trailer to this one and if you're interested in really experiencing this movie "for the first time" you'll skip the trailer and/or synopsis and just press play. I've known that One Cut was getting hype since it was released on Shutter back in the summer but it didn't interest me too much. It wasn't until it started landing on everyone's Best of 2019 lists that I decided to just watch it already. And holy crap. At first you're like, what the shit am I watching? And then about thirty minutes in you're like, this is awesome and then... well. This movie is brilliant and I loved every moment of it. Just watch it.


The year was a good one for horror and there's a lot that I liked that of course didn't make the Best Of list, such is the nature of THE LIST. Every year when I compile my list I begin by extensively researching other Best Of horror lists from that year. There's a lot of movies that pass by unnoticed, or films I forgot about. And I usually try to binge some key titles before making my final list decisions. These other Best Horror lists tend to come from the same sources every year and so I trust them somewhat, as reviewers who actually watch horror movies, the big and the little, the hyped and the unknown. You've got the expected sources like Bloody Disgusting, Rue Morgue, Horror Freak News. But then you have the unexpected, like Vulture, Thrilllist, Bizarre, Esquire, Paste, and The Wire. A lot of these lists look the same. This year on the top of most everyone's list was Doctor Sleep, The Lighthouse, Parasite, Midsommar, US, Tigers Are Not Afraid, It 2, Ready or Not, One Cut, and then the rest varies widely. Below is the list of other movies that turned up on those lists. Some I've seen and didn't love enough for my Best Of, some I have yet to see. So now when you're bemoaning the fact that you've seen all of the good horror movies out there and there's nothing on, chisel away at this beauty...

All That We Destroy
Black Forest
Body at Brighton Rock
Child's Play
Culture Shock
Daniel Isn't Real
Doctor Sleep
Girl on the Third Floor
Happy Death Day 2
Head Count
High Life
Horror Noire: History of Black Horror
I Trapped the Devil
In Fabric
Kindred Spirits
Knife & Heart
Knives and Skin
Little Mosnters
Lords of Chaos
Perfection, The
Pet Sematary
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
The Banana Splits Movie
The Head Hunter
The Nightingale
Velvet Buzzsaw
We Summon the Darkness

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Best Horror Movies of 2016

For as shitty a year as it was in 2016, both worldly and personally, it was a pretty damn fine year for horror movies. Below are my top ten favorites, as well as a slew of honorable mentions.

10.) The Shallows

Genre: Creature Feature
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Country: USA

The ol' trapped in the water with a shark movie, after all these years, after all the bigger boat jokes, it's still a terrifying concept. Ignoring boring comparisons to Open Water and The Reef, I'm just going to plow ahead and say that The Shallows just might be the best shark movie in years. The CGI is impressive, the performances by both Blake Lively and Steven Seagull are outstanding, and the tension is edge of your seat material. I could have done without some of the body horror but hey, gross outs are gross, and gross is part of the genre so I get it. The ending is a little too Hollywood for my tastes but still manages to be impressively bad-ass so I forgive it.

9.) Lake Nowhere

Genre: Slasher; Supernatural
Director:  Christopher Phelps, Maxim Van Scoy
Country: USA

For the last fifteen or so years there's been a slew of contemporary movie throwbacks to the golden age of VHS and late-night horror. Ti West's 2005 The Roost is the earliest one I can think of, and still one of the best, followed by the near-perfect House of the Devil in 2009. There have been many who have tried their hand at this niche subgenre, some to moderate success, but Lake Nowhere is the first in ages to be original in content and authentic in feel. The likability of the characters, the impressive kill scenes, the artistic camerawork, and the unique ending, quickly put this one in my top ten. And for the impatient movie watcher that I am, the 50 minute running length was the blood-soaked cherry on top.

8.) Satanic 

Genre: Supernatural
Director:  Jeffrey G. Hunt
Country: USA

There is a small part of me that feels silly for putting Satanic in my top ten. But try as I might, it just couldn't be usurped. Maybe it's the work of the devil. A little more sense was made for my love for Satanic when looking it up on IMDB and discovering that it was written by Anthony Jaswinski - the writer of The Shallows and Kristy, two recent favorites! (Kristy was on my honorable mentions list this year but according to IMDB it was a 2015 release.) Satanic won me over right from the start with a group of four characters who are obsessed with real murder cases and supernatural stories. I have a soft spot for the horror movie that is somewhat a love letter to horror itself, so I was an easy mark. But Satanic's real strength is its unpredictability. The movie is just this path of random, weird shit that keeps happening until it ultimately leads us to the final act, and it's there that all bets are off. The script is great and the actors are top notch, all in all the most unexpected movie of the year for me.

7.) Under The Shadow

Genre: Supernatural
Director: Babak Anvari
Country: Iranian

Under the Shadow is a truly impressive movie on so many levels. It's a fantastic character study, a terrifying observation of war, a harrowing glance at a woman's life in Iran in the 1980's, and also a pretty scary horror movie about a Djinn. Themes of oppression, abandonment, desperation and the sometimes negative impacts of archaic beliefs, makes this a complex, gratifying movie experience.

6.) Neon Demon

Genre: Psycological; Slasher
Director:  Nicolas Winding Refn
Country: USA

The Neon Demon, you either love it or you hate it. I think the majority will fall into the latter two camps but for me, it was a beautiful, dream-like movie. It walks this fine line of being artistic and being a caricature of itself, with an obscene amount of self-reflection that either makes it pompous or adds to its surreal brilliance. I think it's all of these strange qualities that won me over as I was completely captivated and ultimately horrified once things started to go off the rails. And while Elle Fanning was the star, Jena Malone gave a chilling, unforgettable performance.

5.) The Monster

Genre: Creature Feature
Director:  Bryan Bertino
Country: USA

The thought that occurred to me while watching The Monster was, "this is like what if The Babadook was actually good".  (oh no she didn't!) Both share the theme of "the creature" representing some kind of fracture in the character's lives, of which they must defeat in order to redeem themselves. The Monster is a little more straightforward than The Babadook's bells and whistles, but it's a more powerful representation of that theme, with a more devastating conclusion. I'm a big fan of Zoe Kazan so it was a thrill to get to see her in such a dark role, and her supporting cast mate, Ella Ballentine, played a difficult part brilliantly.

4.) Green Room

Genre: Slasher
Director:  Jeremy Saulnier
Country: USA

I had known about Green Room for a long time before its release but hadn't ever watched a trailer, so I was pleasantly surprised at how brutal it ended up being, how violent and bleak and utterly unforgiving. It was one hell of a thrill ride and I was glad that such hype turned out to be for such a straight up horror movie. So many theatrical releases these days are for horror movies that end up being supernatural thrillers more than anything. And if not for the Star Trek stars in it, it may have remained relatively unknown to the masses. Patrick Stewart, of course, made waves with such a dark role but honestly his character was completely underwhelming. It was Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots, once again sharing the horror movie stage that was the most fun, (they played sweethearts in the Fright Night remake), and his death shortly after this movie's release was all the more sad because of it.

3.) Blair Witch

Genre: Supernatural
Director:   Adam Wingard

Country: USA

Yes, we're all tired of the shaky cam movies, and we know it's not real found footage, you fooled us once, shame on you. But I'll be damned if occasionally one comes along, seemingly out of the blue, and just blows me away (like 2014's Willow Creek). Such was the case for Blair Witch. Shot and initially promoted under the fake title, The Woods, it was already gaining buzz by its scary teaser trailer. When news hit that the creepy The Woods movie was actually a Blair Witch direct sequel, most people lost their shit. Me? I was disappointed. I may be the only person on the planet who actually didn't like 1999's The Blair Witch. The camera work made me want to vomit and the constant bickering and crying of the characters made me wish the witch would just kill them already. So I had my reservations when trudging to the theater to watch another found footage witch movie. And then, holy shit. I haven't felt so uneasy during a movie since I saw Event Horizon in theater by myself. I was crazy scared with my legs tucked beneath me so nothing could grab me from under the seat. I kept thinking, why am I here? I just want to go home to where it's safe and well lit. You know that saying, "crawl out of my skin"? I have never truly understood that phrase until I watched Blair Witch. Just. Awesome.

2.) The Witch

Genre: Supernatural
Director:  Robert Eggers
Country: USA / UK

Speaking of witches... oh my god The Witch. A tension-drenched, weighty slog through a harsh, unforgiving terrain of superstition, dread, and isolation. I saw it twice in the theater and it was even better the second time. Everything about this film is perfection. It's too bad that the Oscars are so prejudice against horror movies because The Witch would sweep - Best Actor, Best Costumes, Best Musical Score, Best Original Screenplay, Best Evil Goat.

And it would have been my number one movie of the year if not for the recently released...

1.) Train to Busan

Genre: Zombies
Director:  Sang-ho Yeon
Country: South Korean

Zombies! I love zombies. Oh, how I love the zombies. Slow zombies, fast zombies, zom-coms, undead zombies, virus zombies, animal zombies, not in love with the talking zombies (Dead Snow) but I'll take 'em. And since The Walking Dead continues to be such a huge success, zombies remain more popular than ever. Which means we have a gluttony of about a dozen zombie movies a year - with one of them actually being, maybe, somewhat good!? Well, sliding into a late December 2016 VOD release, Train to Busan gets that honor of being the one good zombie movie of the year. Lucky for us, that it just so happens to be an EXCELLENT one. It's got great character development, a Korean Jon Favreau, inventive zombie action, thrilling train sequences, and realistic makeup and gore. And the ending is just perfect. Go South Korea!


Best Worst Movie: Beyond the Gates

Honorable Mentions
The Invitation
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Nina Forever
The Boy
Jack Goes Home
Don't Breathe
Lights Out

Biggest Disappointments
Martyrs remake
Cabin Fever remake
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Flight 7500
The Other Side of the Door
The Conjuring 2
The Darkness
The Disappointment Room


Here's to another year of horror movies! Don't forget to watch them - in the dark.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Lights Out (2016)

Genre: Supernatural
Director: David F. Sandberg
Availability: In Theaters

One of the greatest failings of any story is laziness.

In horror movies we rely on the fact that a big part of fear comes from what we don't know - The Big Unknown - it looms over us and the shadow that it casts is wide and dark. The journey that we go on to unearth the How and Why is just as important as the jump scares and the creepy imagery. Granted, this is a horror movie and not a murder mystery, I get that, but there's still an art to gradually unveiling relevant information instead of, oh say, discovering a box full of photos, recordings (that happens to play at the perfect spot when you press play) and confidential case files in literally the first place that you look. It's lazy storytelling and it's unforgivable.

And it wasn't the only instance of such a sin in Lights Out. What was the "experimental treatment" and are we going to talk about the fact that she can "get inside your mind"? No. We're just supposed to take these things at face value and continue to scream at the obscene amount of jump scares?

These glaring issues aside, Lights Out was a more competent horror movie than many. Its concept was unique, the jump scares were effective, and the ending was bold. It will most certainly be touted as one of the best of 2016 by critics, no doubt. I had fun watching it but I fear that it will prove itself to be a forgettable movie. It lacked a memorable journey and its atmosphere was generic. Even the title - Lights Out - I keep wanting to call it Don't Turn Out The Lights, or Lights Off, or That movie about the light switch.

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Best New Horror on Netflix

To date I've watched roughly 1,040 horror movies. I often struggle with finding a new horror movie to watch that I'm excited about or that even looks halfway decent. I imagine I'm not the only one with this struggle, whether it's because you've seen all of the horror movies ever, or because you think every horror movie that pops up on Netflix looks stupid and you've been burned too many times to keep taking chances. In any case, I've put together a small list of new horror on Netflix (or horror that's new to Netflix) that I think is worth a watch.

Top 10

The Girl in the Photographs (2016)

A fun slasher with a mix of mystery and "art". It'll keep you guessing until all your guesses start to get brutally murdered and then you're left with a killer of an ending.

Hush (2016)

The premise is simple. Killer shows up to girl's remotely located house and plays cat and mouse with her. But there's nothing simple about the execution, which is truly inspired. If you want an intense, straightforward horror movie, look no further.

Kristy (2015)

Another excellent cat and mouse horror movie. There are multiple, very brutal killers and one, terrified girl that they've set their sights on. She has to start getting inventive if she wants to live because no one who will try to help her will live to tell the tale. The ending has a nice little twist as well.

Final Girl (2015)

One of the greatest pleasures of horror movies for me is the moment when the Final Girl stops being the victim and starts kicking some ass. In the case of the movie Final Girl, our FG is never the victim, instead she is raised to kick the asses of the Killers who create the Final Girl. It's a refreshing take on the genre with some awesome fight scenes in the third act.

Curse of Chucky (2013)

Forget the campy Chucky movies we all grew up with - they've got their time and place sure, but it's not when you're craving something scary. Curse of Chucky however is putting some weight behind the franchise with its new polished, scary, and yes, serious take on the infamous killer doll. Surprisingly good.

The Hallow (2015)

The Hallow, not to be confused with The Hollow, which were both released in 2015 and have similar looking covers. One is very good, the other is very not. The Hallow is what happens when you move to a foreign country and don't listen to the locals about staying out of the cursed woods. The creatures are terrifying and the action is intense. You may never go into nature again (it belongs to them).

#Horror (2015)

#Horror isn't for everyone. It's kind of like being in a casino targeted at teenage girls. But I loved how weird it was - I'd never seen anything like it. And teenage girls are terrifying, even when they aren't trying to kill people. It's a pretty surreal watch so strap in for a WTF kind of night.

We Are Still Here (2015)

We Are Still Here is kind of an throwback to the late '70s slow burns paired with an early '80s paranormal creature feature. Everything about this movie feels like it belongs in another time, which makes for a strange and unique movie experience.

They Look Like People (2015)

A creepy slow burn that is surprisingly funny when it's not busy screwing with your mind. I love it when low budget indies score terrific actors and a great script. I take a chance on a lot of crap that I regret, but when it pays off with a gem it really reinvigorates my love of small horror flicks. You are a mountain...

The Invitation (2015)

Perhaps qualified more as a psychological thriller than a horror movie, but I'm still going to throw this one in here because it's really damn good and it ends pretty bloody. Another film that subtly builds the dread, making for an uneasy watch that will keep you wondering what the hell is really going on. The final scene is a brilliant addition to an already solid piece. Good stuff.


No, I didn't forget The Babadook. The Babadook can bite me.

There's a ton more great horror on Netflix worth checking out. Just because you've never heard of it before or the cover looks silly doesn't mean it won't be great. Sometimes you have to take a chance in order to find those hidden gems, so don't be afraid to dig for them!

Frightful watching!


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Neon Demon (2016)

Genre: Psychological
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Availability: Still in Theaters

"Beauty isn't everything. It's the only thing."

And while director Nicolas Winding Refn worked on establishing deeper meanings in the subtext to his gorgeously surreal frames, that sentence could probably be applied to The Neon Demon as well. The movie doesn't work as a statement on Hollywood or Beauty or Female Expectation or Jealousy or Envy or Power or Innocence or Corruption - all themes which are explored and dissected. Instead it works as a powerhouse of beauty. Every scene is a surreal, extraordinary photograph that whispers to you, seducing your senses. The horror movie aspect comes in rivulets. A little here - some blood licking, a cougar in the room, a sexual predator / A little there - a scene with a dead body that will make you OMG. Until the finale of course, that just rides the horror wave to crazy town, while looking posh in heels all the way.

Now that I've told you what it is (and isn't), let me tell you that I absolutely loved it. I'm not above a pointless yet pretty movie that shocks me with its brazen gross out factors. It dazzled me, like a pretty face, I couldn't help but stare and smile and think to myself, I want that. And who knows, maybe that was the point all along.

4 out of 5 stars

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Genre: Ghosts; Supernatural
Director: James Wan
Availability: Still in Theaters

When I saw The Conjuring in theaters back in 2013 it scared the shit out of me. I sat there with my knees tucked up to my chin, leaning into the side of my best friend, and screaming so loudly at the jump scares that I started to become embarrassed. Three years and multiple viewings later it still scares me silly. But as much as I love The Conjuring I don't want to watch it again under the guise of another name, such as, oh I don't know, The Conjuring 2.

And when I say it's the same movie I exaggerate. It is of course an entirely different movie. They both just happen to share: an old dingy house, young jovial kids, a stressed out but loving mom, spooky things that start to happen to one kid while she's sleeping in bed, then everyone's a target and they all start sleeping in the living room together, then someone gets possessed, the Warrens come along and offer them kindness and neighborly normalcy while sympathizing and being helpful, a kid hides in the wall, they find a creepy spinning toy that plays music, there's pale gangly ghosties with terrible skin and dark eyes, there's the mystery of discovering what actually happened, there's the misleading answer, the evil things follow the Warrens back home, the kids go stay in a different place while the house gets cleaned, everyone is saved by love. If my life shared that many qualities with someone else's life they'd put us on Unsolved Mysteries and we'd be famous.

I guess my expectations were too high in that I wanted like, some new ideas in a new movie.

Griping aside, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are as delightful as ever as the loving, supernaturally inclined husband and wife team. And there's some really great, creepy imagery throughout that has stayed with me. It's not a bad movie, it's actually a good movie, and for many fans it will be just as good as or even better than the first (so say some critics). But I remain disappointed and will pout about it for a little while longer.

2 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Witch (2016)

Genre: Witches
Director: Robert Eggers
Availability: Still in theaters

In the past, horror movies seemed marked by the decade they were made. When having a conversation about genre and appeal, many can state that they're drawn to a certain period of time which is reflective of the style of movie they tend to like. The gore and camp of the '80s. The psychological and Gothic horror of the '60s. The science fiction horror of the '50s. The teen screams of the '90s. The story-driven slow burners of the '70s. And it's this latter one that The Witch so harkens back to. Dripping with atmosphere, tension and dread, The Witch is a movie out of time, belonging stylistically in the past and thematically in the present, it is not only a complex piece of cinema for today's horror genre, but an important one.

The Witch never tries to be something its not. Instead its understated in almost every way. A sexuality runs through the veins of it without being salacious. There's a sense of impending doom in almost every scene, every wide angled shot that lords over the family, hovering with menace but never shouting in your face for a cheap jump scare. There is some blood and violence but it feels as necessary and natural as the violence of nature itself. And then there's the hysteria, which is the true terror of The Witch.

In a time where the whisper of witchcraft was enough to hang innocent young women, a family is struggling with loss, isolation, and starvation, and the only thing holding the threads of their humanity together is their fervent beliefs. Their damnation is real because they believe it to be, and so do you, and you fear for them. They pray with power, with urgency, with conviction. And any misstep in their day, in their manner, in their speech, is enough to offend God and shake their entire foundation of existence. And so after tragedy befalls them again, and again, there is a whisper of witchcraft in the form of a child's malicious musings, and it's enough to damn them all.

Stylistically The Witch is brilliant. Wide shots of the forest and of the family in prayer build the importance of both elements, while narrow shots of suffering and suspicion add to the claustrophobia that surrounds them as they are trapped by their own inability to survive. The music here is full of strings and vocal crescendos that was so prevalent in the Italian giallo horror of the '70s. This method of music has a way of filling a scene so completely with dread that it's a relief when the inevitable terrible thing that follows finally happens.

There is a strong theme of female empowerment that seems to supersede its witchcraft origin, and that is of a young girl slowly owning her womanhood and realizing there's a power and freedom that she may seize if only she has the will to. The father, who starts out tall and strong with a ruling fist and a voice like velvety gravel, slowly loses both his authority over his children and the love of his wife. The women here rule. With their grief, with their manipulation, with their disobedience, and finally with the sheer magnitude of their will. Breaking every shackle imposed upon them. Even with the small twin siblings, the boy twin seems as dull as background furniture as the girl twin sends chills up our spines with her taunts and her creepy nursery rhymes. It is only Caleb, the eldest boy, who is strong and good even though he is damned by his nature.

The entire cast here is outstanding. Performances that are so good you feel like you're catching a glimpse of the past, as it happened. The set, as simple as it is, is soaked in despair with mud and failing crops and the dark, looming wood that surrounds them. It is a movie that makes you wonder why genre movies aren't ever (or extremely rarely) nominated for the prestigious awards. It is that good.

Oh God my Lord I now begin. Oh help me and I'll leave my sin.
For I repent and thou shall be. Thru evil I will turn to thee.
Whom ever shall destroy my faith. For I repent and thou shall be.
Oh God my Lord I now begin. Oh help me and I'll leave my sin.
For I repent and thou shall be.
Thru evil I will turn to thee.

bah bah bah

5 out of 5 stars