As is traditional around Halloween, I’ve been watching a lot more horror movies in celebration of the season. One I’d been looking forward to seeing for quite a while was The Witch, the 2015 film directed by Robert Eggers. After watching it, I thought it was very good indeed. It’s finely crafted with good atmosphere, interesting characters, and genuinely creepy moments set in a wonderfully gloomy historical setting. What I’ve been trying to wrap my head around, despite all this and more, is the fact that I didn’t really like watching it.
At this point it’s pretty commonplace, almost cliché, to like something because “it’s so bad it’s good.” It’s reached the point that some movies are cynically manufactured to exploit this idea — “Ha ha! It’s a tornado full of sharks! Who thinks of this stuff?” People who know that’s how their target audience would react, that’s who. The love for bad movies does come from a genuine place, though. There’s a degree of sincerity that goes into the best of these kinds of movies. They’re still not that well crafted, but it makes them endearing.
Even in the case of a movie of more middling quality we find ourselves forgiving some flaws that others may not just because something strikes a cord with us. Sin City has been my favourite, most viewed movie for the past 11 years, but I’d never claim it’s one of the best movies ever made. There’s just something about its stories, characters, and visual style that clicked with me in a way little else has since.
How can I justify thinking a movie is great, but not enjoy it though? A simple answer is, of course, that it’s a matter of taste. I’ve discussed matters of quality versus taste preference before, but I don’t want to end the discussion there. I’m especially focused on this because The Witch is not something outside of my realm of enjoyment.
This is unlike an example my father always gave with the film Requiem for a Dream. He thinks it’s a fantastic film, but the content is so depressing for him that he never wants to watch it again. In this case, however, I love horror, especially of the supernatural variety, and appreciate harsh, accurate depictions of history. This movie executes upon these things well too, but I couldn’t shake a prevailing sense of boredom. It’s a contradictory experience I’m having trouble coming to terms with.
Wracking my brain over this has got me thinking a lot about subjectivity. After all, the appreciation of art is a subjective experience. The shape of the Devil’s Tuning fork is paradoxical to the way we were taught to view abstract geometric shapes, but show it to someone who has never been taught that way of thinking and they only see an arrangement of lines.
I’m an atheist, raised in a secular home. At no point was a lack of faith in any way rebellious. I was never told what to believe, nor taught a belief system. All I know is through study as an adult and osmosis growing up. The Witch is heavily steeped in Christian themes, and I’m starting to consider that my disconnection with the film may be related to this. It is perhaps exploring faith and facets of Christianity in a more complex way than I have a frame of reference for, despite the surface-level appearances and aesthetics that I recognize and appeal to me. From researching I’ve come to understand concepts about it that make sense to me, but were otherwise foreign until I found the more explicit explanation.
This all might be a little waffly and tangential, but what I’m getting at is how this is a reminder for me to think critically about what I experience, and not simply write things off or dismiss them. Sometimes it’s rather easy to do that, and it isn’t necessarily wrong either. Nevertheless, thinking more about The Witch has got me appreciating it in such a way that I wouldn’t have if I had watched it and simply moved on, impressed yet bored and a little disappointed.