That new film The Witch – you didn’t understand it.


“And did you exchange a walk-on part in the war
for a lead role in a cage?”

              – Wish you were here.  Pink Floyd.  1975.

   ☆  Yeah, of course it was marketed as a horror film. That’s one way to sell tickets and if you try to sell a creepy film about Puritan pilgrims and spiritual transformation to a film audience without trying to push the horror angle, good luck, you’re not going to get too many people past the box office window, at least not in large numbers in this country with current audience expectations and inclinations and the low levels of intellectual sophistication of most mainstream audiences. Historically, you personally have preferred films with less intelligence, escapist fare, action films, lowbrow scripts. And by “you”, I mean you.

But this film has been misunderstood already and it seems like it continues to be for the same general reasons – “nothing happens”, “what was that all about”, “I don’t know what I just saw”, “uh…”
Not too much critical thinking going on or even attempts at it. Many of the critics understood The Witch, but most audiences are predictably befuddled. Again, this low level of sophistication among most of you who go to the movies explains that confusion. Sadly, most of you just aren’t that bright. The numbers are in. Don’t shoot the messenger. Ah, but you will anyway.
(Look up the “Dunning-Kruger effect”.)

But yeah, most audiences now, particularly in cinemas and in a film marketed as “horror” need the narrative and purpose of a film spelled out for them, almost entirely. It reminds me of a friend who always complains about Manohla Dargis’s great film reviews in the New York Times, my friend (who is reasonably intelligent) says the same thing every time he doesn’t understand if Dargis likes the film or not: ” I don’t know what she thinks of this film… why doesn’t she just come right out and say if she likes it or not”. And I have to repeat the same explanation every time – “if you’re looking for her to say GOOD or BAD, you missed the point”.  It wasn’t spelled out for him.
People are brought up on simplistic devices regarding film reviews: thumbs up/thumbs down, five star systems, turkey emojis and tomato pictures, etc. We now have all of the underpinnings of a society that needs diagrams or pictures in order to understand simple concepts or emotions. Even intelligent people want their film reviews reduced to a small encapsulated Y or N. Or a star, etc. The Village Voice, once one of the purveyors of great film criticism, has reduced itself to putting a checkmark by the films that it recommends, just in case you’re too lazy or don’t have enough time to actually read an article about a film that you are considering going to see. You want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth on a film? Then spend the time reading about it. A thumbs up or a 5-star review is no guarantee you’re going to get the movie you want. Fucking read a little bit, chucklehead. You’ll be pissed off if you haven’t informed your decision to go see a film beyond a picture of a turkey or a tomato or a thumbs up or a certain percentage and then don’t enjoy the film.


Why do I mention all that, rather than just writing a simple review. Because The Witch is exactly the kind of film that gets misunderstood and marketed incorrectly and then you have people walking out of a really fine piece of filmmaking and storytelling not fully satisfied, saying “that’s not what I expected” or “huh?”. SOLUTION:  read more.  Get smarter.  Year after year the levels of intellectual sophistication of audiences continue to drop. And the studios continue to just give audiences what they want rather than challenging audiences, because the studios are in the business of making money. So personally I blame you, the audience, the ones who keep going to the dumb films and ignoring the intelligent films and forcing the studios to have to finance mostly the dumb films to survive financially.

A big pile (the majority) of film reviews are either plot summaries or ass-kissing and boot-licking attempts to endear the film reviewer to the director or writer and at least a fistful of New York City critics seem to pride themselves on relationships with filmmakers and I have seen at least one film reviewer even posting pictures of himself with directors and such on his Facebook page, as if it’s a certification of some kind of connection to the creative process. Of course, almost all film critics would much rather be making films or writing screenplays. So a decent amount of film critics use their profession as a kind of stepping stone to get closer to working directors and writers. It really seems like many film critics are auditioning for a job by writing glowing film reviews, afraid of becoming obsolete from user reviews online.  And a lot of film reviews have now just become promotional garbage and not really even a dependable source of thought about a particular film.  Some directors, such as Tarantino, have actually come to expect reviews always to be promotional or a “commercial for my movie” (QT) and don’t accept complex or heavily critical film reviews, as if why would a critic pan a film?   Many directors, again like Tarantino, think that a bad review of one of their films means that the film critic didn’t understand their film or that the critic simply has a chip on their shoulder.

Artists and filmmakers want the review to be promotional because they want to pay their bills. But you as a filmgoer want to see a film worthy of your 15 dollars. You also don’t seem to want to read about it much, just a yes or no, green light or red light. Okay, The Witch is a really well-made and well-executed film, but a simple review of the film doesn’t make any sense right now because the film may not be for most of you… most of you don’t go for challenging films anymore and summing up plot details or figuring out as to why you may or may not enjoy The Witch is pointless. Predicting which of you will like a film is a lot like figuring out who’s going to win a ballgame – no one knows and it’s a gamble. And a lot of you are pretty picky and sensitive and sort of high maintenance when it comes to your entertainment… and simultaneously you’re not very discerning and you seem to prefer the film equivalent of junk food when it comes to movies. You complain if you’re told too much about the movie and you bitch if you feel the quick yes or no review leaves you feeling cheated after the film, but you go on the simple, non-researched indications of a film’s worth anyway and half the time you don’t like the film… there’s no sure thing from a film review – you want a quick and shallow guarantee that you’re going to enjoy the film  and your money will be well-spent and no review can give you that… you want someone to blame if you don’t like the film.  Or you want your money back.  But again, you didn’t do your homework and you didn’t read – and you never did.
But most of you won’t understand what The Witch is all about and most of you should probably go see something less intellectually challenging… Deadpool or Star Wars or some Tarantino gun-orgy bloodletting thing.



The Witch is for believers, at any rate.  Or maybe people ready to believe.  Pagans or other outcasts realize there is a subtext to this film completely not related to the surface story you might mistakenly think is what this film The Witch is about. Most of you aren’t pagans, believers, practitioners, or even that interesting anymore. You work your job dutifully, you stopped really questioning most shit when you got worn down enough, you’re too tired for thinking, and you’re largely a consumer looking to be entertained or to have your heart rate jolted a bit before you go to bed.  In other words, all the real magic was drained out of you a while back, so long ago and so completely that you think anyone is an asshole for pointing that out.  But that’s what this movie is trying to get at without spelling it out for you, because if it’s handed to you in a comfortable, easy, spoon-fed fashion it isn’t going to make you work for or conjure the magic that you may never recover in your slave life of work-shit-eat-sleep. Do you really just need another film entertainment that you won’t think about beyond tomorrow?  Do you really need another shallow film review to give you a thumbs up or a tomato or 5 stars?  No way to know what the hell is really going to make a difference for you.

And, yeah, this isn’t just about one film being misunderstood. There are so many great films every year that are ignored or misunderstood or tossed aside that are far and away the most important films of the year, but somehow the crap films clean up financially and the mental midgets who keep gobbling up all the big dumb films are also a big part of the crisis of imagination and of intelligence. That means you. Those of you who would rather get force-fed another hollow Star Wars chapter or another X-Men film or a Tarantino shootout posing as Godard, rather than be challenged by something like The Witch or Charlie Kaufman or Paul Thomas Anderson (most of you ignored Anderson’s Inherent Vice the year before last, which is a real fucking crime).

A lot of you still didn’t see The Big Short or other films that were far more crucial to almost everything happening in the world, more so than a bloated piece of commercial trash like Star Wars or the upcoming pointless and formula-driven Superman/Batman cash-in. And it has nothing to do with taste, it has to do with that most of you gave up years ago for safe & comfortable bullshit entertainment, the ease of nostalgia, or the laziness of mentally jerking off to seeing your favorite actor or Harrison Ford or some knuckleheaded good versus evil plot. And some of you, including some film critics, think that if you say a film is Shakespearean, then you’ve found an unassailable description of a really lazy fighting and shooting film, like the morons who said that Tarantino’s Hateful 8 garbage was like a Shakespeare play. Horseshit.  You gave up even being able to know what good writing is anymore.  And no one’s really getting mad enough about the decline of the audience, as if holding the people responsible for the decline in intelligence is too mean or “negative”, whatever that means.


And no one makes enough of an effort to be truly critical.  So you’ll struggle with what this film The Witch is all about, but you say that the Hateful 8 and Django or even Star Wars are “masterpieces”, an unbelievable lack of judgement and poor taste on your part, but then you’ll also complain about how many shitty films are made when you and all the money that you keep plopping down for middle school-level inane entertainment like Star Wars and Tarantino are a huge part of the problem and are the reasons shitty unintelligent films keep getting made. And, of course, people who point all that out are the assholes, not you for continuing to support that crap financially and not going to see the better films that might be a little farther away than your nearest cinema.  Do most of you even know who Richard Linklater is?  And that’s an easy one.

The Witch isn’t for most of you. Sure it has quite decent critic reviews, but why does it not register with most audiences (somehow you moronic audiences managed to get it an overall “C-” , ultimately a meaningless letter, true, but you gave Star Wars an “A”), and why the hell do more people talk about Star Wars, Deadpool, Tarantino, and every shitty repetitive and unimaginative superhero film.

The Witch is an attempt to show the lack of magic in the crazy, foolish, waspy hypocrisy at the root of this entire country and Europe and it goes deep into the psyche of pilgrims and their battered damaged arrival with no real plans here in the New World.
The Witch is a whole battery of glimpses into the soul (or soullessness) of the new immigrants in New England during the fateful and tragic migration of the 1600’s and the naive child-like mental level of most of the pilgrims and Puritans. It’s no wonder that real soulfulness and real spirituality and actual magic was rooted out and exterminated by the crazy idiots who set up the early stages of this country, this country that is still drifting aimlessly after a few hundred years, people still spending their largely infantilized lives counting dollars and talking about “the future”, as if some dangling imaginary philosophical carrot is going to break apart this enslaved reality that existed for the pilgrims and that exists equally for us now.  Or maybe subconsciously some of you are waiting for Neo…?

Surveillance camera

Yep, all the magic was stomped out and shit on and you’re not sure what this film The Witch was really about, other than the surface.  The film is about you and that’s not really good because you’re still believing in the wrong bullshit:  your crappy job that a trained monkey could do, the endless pursuit of money, buying stuff… and you didn’t do anything this week to get magic back or tear down some tyrannical hypocrisy or tell your boss what a terrible piece of trash he or she is for being brazenly and blindly devoted strictly to profit margins.   Why aren’t you taking a chance or rocking the boat…

You’re just as afraid to make real inquiries as those clueless pilgrims were. But the difference is that you’ve now had an extra 300 to 400 years or so longer than they did to figure all this out. And you’re living in the same aimless and wandering way, but thinking you’re committed to some higher purpose than the pilgrims and Puritans were.  But again you’re all mostly just consumers, probably more enslaved than even the pilgrims were, and I doubt anyone who reads this knows much about magic or much beyond Halloween costumes or a little bit of Wicca or a candle or two or maybe has a goth friend who claims to be pagan or read an Aleister Crowley book at some point.

Yeah, this film The Witch is about you… but you might think it’s about the Devil or Satanism or paganism.  Or you just wanted a scary horror movie, so you’re somewhat confused now that you saw it.  Go back to sleep.  You’re achieving similar things whether you’re in bed or walking around at your slave job… which is mostly nothing. Going around in circles in vain. You turned your back on magic and a real life a long goddamn time ago. And you complain a lot and have periodic health problems.  Money is a recurring issue for you.  The woods in this film The Witch are a perfect metaphor – most of you are in the woods, deep in the woods.  The real horror is you.

Yep, humanity has a vampiric and demonic history of slaughter, confusion, chaos, destruction, killing rebels & witches, with brief interludes of art and saintly angelic yearnings – then right back to the killings and hangings and mutilations and the pursuit of gold and diamonds. Saints and witches and socialists and real rebels get killed off by you, consistently.  And you’re going to try to convince anyone that the human race isn’t a pack of idiots who turned their back on magic and killed all the witches…?  And you’re still doing it.

And maybe you thought this might be a film review. You thought… never mind.
Paying the bills:  that’s what really interests you. What’s the opposite of magic and witchcraft:  Money.

This isn’t a horror movie.  Or maybe it is.  But this is a film you mostly didn’t fully understand and it didn’t make a difference to you. The Witch went over your head.

Okay, anyway… time for you to get back to work, Pilgrim. Go back to sleep. Magic and witchcraft don’t really interest you, other than the annual Halloween candy orgy. You’d rather have your gadget and your computer, rather than magic.
Of course, you already killed all the witches and you killed all the magic. And you’re killing it again today.




Michael Reiss

Author: Michael Reiss

Film. Politix. Free Leonard Peltier. Free Tibet. Free America. Free food. Free shit. "Free yr mind and yr ass will follow."