Is the The Witch “Real Horror?”

The Witch: There's screaming, but is it "real horror?"

It’s still early, but I’ll wager The Witch will be the scariest movie I see this year. Not because the makers filled it with jump scares, gore or even creepy black-haired girl ghosts. The Witch is frightening because it’s relentlessly downbeat and oozes a sense of dark menace from virtually the opening frame.

But more importantly, perhaps, The Witch works as a horror film because the audience understands that the movie is unfolding outside of the conventions of fright flicks that preceded it. Anything could happen.

And that fear of the unknown may be our deepest fear.

That’s why it bugs me to see some horror fans bashing The Witch for not being “real horror” — primarily, it seems, because the makers dared to tread into the territory of art-house cinema. It’s a knee-jerk response that, while thankfully not universal among horror fans, is sadly all too common. I’ve heard it invoked again and again by horror gatekeepers when they see movies like Black Swan, It Follows, Spring and Under the Skin.

Any time a scary movie comes off the festival circuit heaped with critical praise and a handful of awards, detractors line up to denounce it as lacking chills, being too artsy-fartsy or failing to deliver on its hype. Those condemnations are only amplified in the echo chamber of social media.

But for the horror genre to remain vital, it can’t retread the same old tropes. To break free of them, filmmakers need to push boundaries, often charting a course into artier territory. How many more times do you really want to sit through a story of a family that suffered a recent loss and moves into a haunted house? How many more needless remakes of horror classics? How many found-footage retreads?

As a music fan, I find the “it’s not real horror” argument a lot like the rockabilly aficionado who insists only music that sounds like it could have been recorded in 1958 is worth listening to. Or the jazz enthusiast who claims the more avant garde end of the genre can’t be called “jazz” because Satchmo wouldn’t recognize it as such. While one can respect the purity of their arguments, neither makes much of a case for the genre moving forward.

So, you can bet I’ll be watching the The Witch again, just like I did It FollowsSpring, Black Swan and Under the Skin. And I’ll remain eager to see the next offbeat indie that rolls of the festival circuit with positive reviews. I know it may be an… ahem… scary notion to some, but for genres to thrive, they must grow, evolve and move in uncharted directions.


Forgotten Films: Coherence (2013)

Coherence offers some interesting twists, but its characters are yuppie scum.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 132nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week I back with a new review of a Forgotten Film, after a wild week of trivia contests and the like. If you check yesterday’s post here on the blog you’ll find my long report on the event. My team conquered the world and became the first National Trivia League champion, defeating more than 200 teams from 91 different cities around the country.

Anyway, this Labor Day weekend I was invited to a friend’s home with some other friends to watch some science fiction and fantasy films. We saw five films during the day and Coherence indicates that this film came out in 2013. I missed it totally at that time, not even hearing the name or anything about it. IMDB shows that it only took in $68,000 in its domestic release.

The film deals with a single evening in the life of eight people, four couples, some of whom know each other, though no one really appears to know everyone. Four men, four women of various ages. There is a comet passing close to Earth overhead. One of the guest, Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) has a brother (not shown) who is an astronomer or some sort of scientist.

Weird things start to happen. Cell phone screens break for Em (Emily Foxler) and Hugh. There are tensions among the group. Mike (Nicholas Brendon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is an actor from the old Roswell TV series (not really) but he can’t find work. Em’s old boyfriend Kevin (Maury Sterling) shows up with Laurie (Lauren Maher), whom none of the ladies like.

Things start slowly (really slowly, enough that I made some comment about My Dinner With Kahoutek in relation to the film) and then the lights go out. Candles get lit, women scream, glowsticks are found, and hysteria starts to raise its ugly head. Hugh looks outside and sees that there is a house up about two blocks that has lights on. He wants to call his brother and let him know what is going on. Hugh and Amir (Alex Manugian) go to check things out. They are gone for a while.

When they return, Hugh has a cut on his head and Amir has a locked box. Hugh claims not to have seen anything at the house and Amir says Hugh told him to take the box though Hugh denies this. Once the cut is treated, the box is open. Inside are photos of all eight dinner guests, including one of Amir that could only have been taken that evening. There are numbers written on the back of the photos in handwriting that Em recognizes as her own. Hugh then reveals that he saw something at the other house. He saw the eight of them inside.

Hugh’s wife Beth (Elizabeth Gracen) remembers that Hugh’s brother left a book when he visited the other day and she has it in their car outside. It’s an odd physics book and they open it at random and start talking about coherence and decoherence in a quantum physics sort of way. There are discussions of Shroedinger’s cat and the quandary it posed.

From here the film takes a very dark turn. Mike is concerned that the other him must be drinking and he is not a nice person when he is drinking. He wants to make a pre-emptive strike to prevent the other him from murdering him. That’s about as sane as it gets the rest of the way. A group visits the other house, which is of course a doppelganger of the house they are in. They see two sets of themselves, each carrying different color glowsticks.

Overall, this was an interesting film. Unfortunately, the first act is where we might get to know and like each of the eight guests. They are all annoying yuppy puppies and I had no sympathy for any of them. I kept hoping they would all die, several of them sooner than others, but I wanted them all dead. You might like them better.

The whole first third of the film just drug, hence the Dinner with Kahoutek reference. There is a wonderful Philip K. Dick paranoia through the last third of the film as it becomes apparent that the dinner guests are not always the same ones that started the evening earlier. People don’t remember significant things or identifying objects and numbers.

Overall, I think I’m glad I saw it. It ended up being much better than the final film of the evening, Under the Skin, which I found hopelessly muddled and making no sense whatsoever. But I am quite sure I will never watch this one again. And, as always, you may get better mileage than I did. I hope so.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.