Friday, 30 September 2016
The VVitch: A New-England Folktale
The VVitch describes an overwhelming state of fear. Even at default, the central household is assailed, cast out of the 17th century's version of civilisation thanks to a disagreement regarding Puritanical gospel. With nowhere else to go, the family attempt to put down roots next to a dense, decaying forest. Long before Satanic forces even begin to make themselves known, the film piles on tension. There's never a concrete sense of safety for these characters, their hand-built house offers no relief, instead it amplifies the sharp, alien sounds that travel at night, stressing the danger a person must put out of their mind if they are ever to find rest.
William, the father, is not a conqueror, he cannot bend the environment to his will. Attempts to harvest this barren land are thwarted by the dry, miserly earth, vermin and uncooperative rifles alike. Unable to farm, he loses himself in woodcutting, performing the task as a form of exhaustive self-flagellation. This relentless. physical hardship is felt by all in the household and matched by the theological weight bearing down on them. The family's conception of God is neither comforting nor encouraging. It is spoken of as an indifferent, astral force that sees and judges all.
In her prayers, eldest daughter Thomasin confesses to sins committed in thought, indicating a paralysing, all-consuming belief that beats down rather than raises up. As the oldest child, Thomasin holds a position of crippling responsibility. While she toils with straw and manure, her siblings play. If they argue, it's her fault. If isolation and puberty urge her younger brother to glance at her corset, well, she was asking for it. William and his wife Katherine discuss their daughter as if she is nothing more than chattel. She is constantly blamed and ultimately expendable.
Thomasin's mother wants rid, her father (at best) views her as a prize commodity to be traded away. There is no future for her here. The VVitch expresses the unease this idea creates in a succession of desperate, manic encounters that track towards the dissolution of the family unit. With no sane framework to contextualise their situation, the household slowly implodes, consuming and excreting itself on the edge of the known world. When Thomasin's rebellion finally, explicitly, arrives it's tempting to read the situation as a neglected daughter offering herself up to the kind of safety and stability that her parents have utterly failed to provide.