Category Archives: film noir

78 of 366: The Witch

thewitch
imdb.com

For fear of being truly haunted by the “witch of the wood,” and because I can’t get The Witch out of my brain, I am skipping ahead one post today. Hopefully my rewind blog on Your Sister’s Sister, movie 77, will push the remaining haunting images from The Witch out of my mind. I do apologize if there are any inadvertent mentions of the mumblecore movement or Mark Duplass here. For all I know, he and Jay Duplass are probably already coming up with a film like The Witch but set in a New York loft as some 20-somethings figure out their lives. I’ll watch it.

Back to the fear I was talking about, I at first didn’t think The Witch was that scary when the credits started rolling. There were a few moments I jumped in the theater, but in the end I was more focused on it being a well-done first feature film by Robert Eggers as he effectively used the mystery of the unknown to scare his audience rather than only loud noises and things that go bump in the night.

My walk to my car under the hazy moon on an otherwise dark street with silhouettes of people in their windows watching television (if they were in fact there) made how scary The Witch actually was set in. Of course the only parking when I got home was by the woods near my apartment building and I was sure I would be sucked in and possessed by something evil.

I could just have a wild imagination because I see a lot of movies and think about them even more, or I’m just a tad delusional, but I do measure the success of a scary film on the effect it has after the fact. The Witch is doing pretty well in that regard.

Eggers, known as a production designer on many short films, set The Witch in the 1630s with a family in New England slowly turning against each other as a supernatural being causes tragedy and cute babies to disappear into thin air (a terrifying scene early in the film.)

The slow burn style Eggers uses to tell the story, influenced by themes of New England folklore and witchcraft, with only glimpses of what is truly evil fits the bill for a horror film even if it doesn’t seem like one on the surface.

The use of the score and sound effects to instill fear was another strong point of the film. There was louder instrumentation even as nothing was really happening and then complete silence in the background of some of the more climatic moments resulting from the family’s strife and belief the children especially are turning into witches.

Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is really at the center of it all and her character truly exemplifies what the family is going through all in one person. She is the hero in some moments and shunned aside in others as Eggers keeps the mystery of her true identity at bay as long as possible.

My recommendation is to go into The Witch knowing things are not always at they seem and then try not to think too much about it afterward, if you have an imagination like I do. (Also park somewhere well-lit near theater.)

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56 of 366: Laura

laura
imdb.com

I welcome any excuse to dust off my film textbooks from college, today’s being Laura. The film, (1944), has a reputation as a film noir with a few twists and style points that take it away from being a full display of the genre.

Based on a novel turned play from Vera Caspary, who reportedly wasn’t happy with the film adaptation by Otto Preminger and writers Jay Dratler, Elizabeth Reinhardt and Samuel Hoffenstein, Laura is on the surface a story about a mysterious murder with the themes of love, loneliness and jealously in the background.

Laura (Gene Tierney), well established in her career at an advertising firm and social life, is a sought after woman by Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), her mentor of sorts, and Lt. Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) after she goes out of town for a weekend and is supposedly murdered upon return to her apartment.

Lydecker, a well known, self absorbed columnist and radio show host, is enamored with Laura not long after she sees him at lunch and asks him to endorse a pen advertised by her company.

Many of the men in Laura’s life are enamored by her presence. McPherson, having never met Laura, feels the same way as he works on her murder case and spends most of his time her apartment with her portrait on the wall in nearly every scene there.

Laura won an Oscar for best cinematography after its release, an award that probably carried more meaning in that era, as the film effectively uses light and shadows and fade-in and outs to move the story along.

Some of those styles are characteristic of film noir, but in Laura, for example, the shadows are more often cast of individual characters on a wall or street rather than onto each other.

Laura as a character, while the central focus of the film, is also there to show the inner workings of the other characters and their true personas, motives and desires.

Thus the use of individual shadows stresses paying attention to each character alone rather than their relationships with each other. In one scene, however, as McPherson interrogates Laura at the police station, his shadow is cast on her face — showing they do perhaps have more of a connection than meets the eye.

That is one of the few scenes where I noticed a change in the use of shadows, and I found it to be one of the most telling moments in the film.

Overall, I think love is also one of the most prominent themes in Laura through the very end. Characters, whether it be between Carpenter, Lydecker or McPherson and Laura are often asking each other if they love her or if they think she loves them.

Laura mostly switches from the point of view of Lydecker and McPherson and in the end Lydecker, speaking on a radio broadcast, says it best to exemplify the meaning of love in the film.

“And thus, as history has proved, love is eternal. It has been the strongest motivation for human actions throughout centuries. Love is stronger than light. It reaches beyond the dark shadow of death.”

— Waldo Lydecker