Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film or series that is available on DVD or on an instant streaming service. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
The Witch (2015)
A man and his family stand in judgment in front of a brooding gathering of early Pilgrims. The man is strong in his own Christian faith, defying the village rulers and bellowing his distaste for them as if he were a preacher himself. He and his family are summarily banished beyond the gates of the plantation. They ride off, alone, the gates closing behind them. But why?
So starts The Witch, a moody, atmospheric, and chilling period film from writer/director Robert Eggers that doesn’t speak down to its audience and ultimately is a smart, fascinating, and surprising film that defies genre labels. Eggers, a production designer and costume designer, shows great skill in his directorial debut, particularly with his handling of actors and setting. This enveloping film will stick with you for a while.
The setting is 1630s New England where the banished family takes residence on a seemingly idyllic plot on the edge of a forest. Religious superstition and the fear of witches/witchcraft abound in this period, and the family’s fears are soon realized as their newborn son disappears into thin air one day. The oldest child of the family, Thomasin, was charged with watching the baby and her parents are swiftly weary of her, even as they ascribe the disappearance to the devil. The other three children in the family are a younger, adolescent brother and even younger twins (a boy and a girl). Soon after, the crops die and events become stranger. The family unravels, and soon, we know why.
Enough about plot.
The film is a winner for its atmosphere, setting, costumes, and period language. The characters are studied closely, and each gets numerous close-ups that serve to create a claustrophobic atmosphere very much like one might feel in such a place. What the film lacks in plot and action is more than leveraged for interesting characters placed in difficult situations. While this is not a film for everyone, if you let it breathe a bit, you might find yourself catching your own breath. It is intense, sharp filmmaking.
You will like this if you liked The White Ribbon, The Babadook, and/or It Follows.
Now available on iTunes and/or Amazon Video.
Daredevil Season 2
I was a big fan of Daredevil season one (reviewed July 1, 2015). I found its mixture of comic book lore, Taxi Driver film noir-darkness, and Oldboy-gore refreshing. Season 1 did what good seasons 1 do: they establish character, background, and give us the first baddie. Seasons 2 can be messy: many times they add in too many characters and too many subplots, forgetting what they did well in the first season. Daredevil nearly falls into this trap, but it catches itself and pushes ahead with another excellent season of thoughtful, gritty, high-octane drama. The Marvel show for grown-ups is growing up nicely.
Season 2 continues the story of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), the blind crime-fighting vigilante in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. The action picks up quickly and new characters fly at us. The first new and important character we meet is Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal). Castle becomes a vigilante after his family was killed in a New York DA sting gone wrong, and then he goes on a brutal, violent, vengeful killing spree.
The other main character is a former love of Murdock’s, Elektra (Elodie Yung), who comes back into his life as a bad-ass vigilante of her own. Their relationship is, well, complicated (but whose isn’t?), and it too sends the plot spinning in another direction. Their subplot, The Punisher’s subplot, and the return of Fisk and the erstwhile ninjas from season 1 all come together at the end of the season. And it works.
Aside from story advancements, the elements that set apart Daredevil all remain intact: the excellent, dark and chiaroscuro cinematography; the snappy editing; the intelligent dialogue; and the murky characters with depth. All are on display in what has turned out to be one of the best series on any TV platform. Stay tuned for season 3.
You will like this if you enjoyed Daredevil, Season 1; Jessica Jones; and/or The Killing.
Seasons 1 & 2 now playing on Netflix.
One other item of note:
The Denver Film Society announced the schedule for their summer family program, “Welcome to the Dahl House.” The series will highlight seven family-friendly films from the beloved children’s author, Roald Dahl. Each week the Denver Film Society will screen a film on Saturday morning at 10:30am. All tickets are $5 (children 6 and under are free) and include an all-you-can-eat cereal bar beginning at 10am.
The series will kick off Sat., June 4 with the 1971 classic, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (with a golden ticket competition!). Check out the Denver Film Society website for more information.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at MSU Denver.