The Witch is Ushering in a New Age of Horror Movies

The success of The Witch is a big deal and, hopefully, a sign of big things to come.
Publish date:
March 1, 2016
movies, horror films, horror movies, filmmakers, movie reviews

We rounded out 2015 with some horror genre-busting sleeper hits like the much-lauded It Follows, The Babadook and Goodnight Mommy. These movies moved existed in worlds built from sturdier foundations than the standard horror tropes and clichés. This year, with the release and subsequent successes of films like The Witch and Southbound, it's looking, more and more, like 2016 is the year that will catapult the horror genre to new heights.

Last weekend, I wrote about how excited I was to see Robert Egger's The Witch. This week, after scouring Reddit and IMDB message boards, and gorging on film reviews and Black Phillip memes, I'm more excited than ever about the future of the horror film genre.

This is a film that, blatantly and to the vehement opposition of many viewers, abandons the familiar tropes of horror films while still being genuinely frightening. CGI torture porn, cheap jump scares, and heavy-handed tropes are nowhere to be found. Rather, The Witch: A New England Folktale stands on the legs of craft.

Robert Eggers, who took home the Best Director award at Sundance last year for The Witch, has been candid about his refusal to break way from his creative vision in the four years it took for The Witch to become a reality. For one thing, the dialogue in the film draws "directly from period journals, diaries, and court records."

It's occasionally difficult to follow. It's jarring.

For a film grounded so firmly in the past — I should probably just bite the bullet and call The Witch a period piece — to capture audiences so completely, netting eight million its first weekend and over 17 million domestically, is a rare thing. Especially since it's also a horror movie.

Eggers' vision for the film was of "a Puritan nightmare" and The Witch stays wedded to his vision — from the lore that informs the more nightmarish aspects of the film to the characters' religious responses to the supposedly supernatural events that occur. The fact that a studio would invest in a "Puritan nightmare" and the fact that said nightmare ignited a cultural phenomenon and a Twitter account with over 3,000 followers is an incredible feat.

Fans of horror movies are well aware what the success of The Witch could mean for the genre. A studio took a chance on an art-house period piece and it paid off, hopefully paving the way for more risk-taking horror films. Risk-takers like Southbound, another horror movie released this year to very positive reviews if not the same level of recognition. Southbound is an anthology horror film that breaks away from the found footage style that has occupied the anthology space in the mainstream consciousness by way of the V/H/S franchise.

It is a movie unabashedly committed to the idea of horror as a visceral sensation. Sure, it may be sparse on jump scares — although it pays its horror genre dues with enough body horror to last at least one lifetime — but it gets all the way under you skin. It remains throughout its four linked stories, as David Ehrlich of Rolling Stone writes, "tightly knotted where so many other films of its type are frayed at the seams." Southbound stayed with me for days. I re-rented it on iTunes. I slept with the lights on.

Hopefully, the critical acclaim The Witch and, more quietly, but equally excitingly, Southbound have received and the cultural impact they've made is a harbinger of horrors to come. What could the future of horror look like if horror movies were orchestrated by directors who felt free to take risks?

We might find out when Green Room, a neo-nazi vs. crust punk rock band bloodbath, hits theaters this April. The unconventional plot is propelled by writer and director Jeremy Saulnier who, according to one Fangoria film critic, "flip-flop[s] between subverting and conforming to convention to keep his audience off-balance."

While there's no way to know exactly what awaits us (EXCEPT FOR DEATH! SHOUTOUT TO GRAVE ENCOUNTERS!) this year, the pop culture buzz surrounding movies like The Witch set a promising and harrowing tone for the rest of the year.

What horror movies are you looking forward to this year? Do you cover your eyes during the scary parts (or movies...or The Bachelor...or sex)? Tell me about it.