Friday, March 11, 2016

Strange Origins

The Witch (2015): written and directed by Robert Eggers; starring Anya Taylor-Joy (Thomasin), Ralph Ineson (William), Kate Dickie (Katherine), Harvey Scrimshaw (Caleb), Ellie Grainger (Mercy), and Lucas Dawson (Jonas): Just about as dark as it gets for a horror movie. Robert Eggers riffs on everything from "Young Goodman Brown" to Kubrick's The Shining in this tale of dark Christianity, Satanic goings-on, and extreme isolation. 

Set in New England in 1630, The Witch begins with its family of protagonists being exiled from a Puritan settlement for their religious beliefs (which may be even more Calvinistic than the Puritans). We see the first steps in that exile subjectively, from teen-age girl Thomasin's point-of-view. Her POV will dominate what comes after, though there are scenes that she isn't witness to. Probably.

Eggers drew on folktales, witch-trial court documents, and period testimonials for his inspiration. The film itself can withstand multiple, sometimes contradictory readings. Is it a paean to feminism? Is it a straight-up piece of Satanic horror? Is it a tale of madness in the woods? Is it a commentary on Calvinism? Is it a light-hearted romp? Well, no. It's not a light-hearted romp. Unless you actually are a Satanist. OK, so it could be a light-hearted romp for a certain type of person.

Filmed in the dark and humanless woods of Mattawa, Ontario, The Witch is ultimately a disquieting and unnerving 100 minutes of film-making. That it got a major release in theatres is something of a miracle -- audiences expecting another Blumhouse boilerplate horror movie clearly didn't like The Witch. So it goes. I think it's a major work of art from a young film-maker I'll be watching. And Anya Taylor-Joy is superlative as the sympathetic, frustrated Thomasin. 

But the actors are all really good, from Ralph Ineson as the bumbling, weak but well-meaning patriarch and Kate Dickie as the increasingly paranoid (towards Thomasin) matriarch through Harvey Scrimshaw (what a last name!) as adolescent Caleb all the way to the two kids playing the unnervingly carefree, creepy young Jonas and Mercy. A black rabbit delivers a fine performance, as does a black goat. 

Blood and gore are minimal, but when they come, they shock. Even the minimal score is creepy. This is about as good a film as one could hope for, and one that will probably spark conversations for years to come. Highly recommended.


Deadpool (2016): written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick; Deadpool created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicienza; directed by Tim Miller; starring Ryan Reynolds (Wade Wilson/ Deadpool), Stefan Kapicic (Voice of Colossus), Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead), Ed Skrein (Ajax), T.J. Miller (Weasel), and Morena Baccarin (Vanessa): Deadpool's success suggests that people wanted funnier, raunchier, R-rated superhero movies. And can you blame them? Deadpool may not be as funny as it seems to think it is, but it's still pretty funny. 

It's also a perfect showcase for Ryan Reynolds' brand of smirky hunkiness. The script is still a bit too boilerplate for its own good -- the romance, the origin story, and the vengeance plot are all things we've seen before, though Deadpool's ongoing meta-commentary on everything that's going on keeps things lighter than the usual superhero movie: he's Bugs Bunny as Wolverine. It might be nice to see a bit less programmatic story for Deadpool 2, which looks like it's going to be Deadpool and Cable and not another revenge story. 

The supporting turns from CGI Colossus -- finally used to good effect in what is, technically, an X-Men movie -- and the hilarious, angsty Negasonic Teenage Warhead (thank Monster Magnet via Grant Morrison for that name) as unwilling sidekicks/frenemies to Deadpool are quite funny. And while this Fox-Marvel movie doesn't share the same universe as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's also pretty funny to see a climax that really does seem to occur on, over, around, and ultimately under what looks an awful lot like a SHIELD helicarrier someone dumped in a junkyard. Recommended.

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