What’s more terrifying than a Santanic witch? The life of a young girl in historical Puritan America.
The best kind of art reflects the human condition. Saying so might be screenwriting 101, but most horror movies nowadays miss the forest for the trees. They settle for going through the motions: jump scares are a dime a dozen, and Saw made a franchise out of elaborate fetishized torture. A horror film that exhumes the depths of individual cupability and holds its grotesque complexity to the light, that hovers in your mind days afterward, is rare.
I’m half-convinced black magic was involved in the making of The Witch, director Robert Eggers’s film debut, because no first movie should be this skilled, smart, and profoundly unsettling. It’s another staggering entry in the genre’s unofficial new wave (The Babadook, It Follows), and harkens back to the 1970s and ’80s when horror lived up to its name.
It was broad daylight. I was hunched over a table in a crowded coffee shop, listening to a podcast several people on the interwebs had recommended to me while I gathered notes for a different essay (that’s a lie: I was wistful-shopping ModCloth). I liked the premise of the first episode, dove into the second prepared to be deliciously creeped out but not too bothered. I’m An Adult, after all; I survived The Exorcist with my bravery intact.
Halfway through, as a character described the shadowy, inhuman figure that inexplicably haunted them in photographs, a hand-to-God chill shuddered up my spine. In broad daylight. Surrounded by people.
Killing time in a sold-out theater, waiting for the movie to start, my friends and I refreshed our memories on the release dates for all the upcoming superhero movies this year. There were, naturally, a lot.
Batman v Superman in March. Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse in May. Suicide Squad in August. Gambit in October and Doctor Strange in November. The two titans of comic publishing are duking it out for box office dominance, and with plans for more movies spanning into 2020 and beyond, the spandex-and-capes train isn’t losing steam anytime soon.
Deadpool hit the world at a time when some critics and audiences are awash with “superhero movie fatigue.” As you can probably guess by the title, these souls are sick of superhero movies. Some even think they’re ruining good cinema. Take this recent article from Forbes:
At last, Hollywood realizes the drawing power of adult males who want to pretend that they are still teen boys. Just think of how much better Deadpool might have done if audiences weren’t so clearly tired of costumed superhero comic book movies. Oh, and if you’re a kid trying to sneak into Deadpool this weekend, while I cannot condone such behavior, I can beg you to buy your cover ticket for Brooklyn.
Whooooo. There’s so much for me to take apart in that paragraph alone, but I don’t want to get too far off track. (Maybe next time. Hey, there’s an idea for a different article!)
Whether or not you agree with the idea of superhero fatigue (for the record, I vehemently don’t; no surprise there), there’s no denying Deadpool came out in a year loaded start to finish with exhaustive comics offerings — and instead of audiences turning away, it broke records with a $135 million dollar opening weekend. The highest ever for an R-rated movie, and an impressive one even by the standards of blockbusters. It’s barely behindTwilight and beat freaking Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hallows Part 1.
I’m sure there’ll be lots of discussion over the coming weeks piecing apart why a predicted sleeper hit, estimated to gross a safe $60–$80 million, blew down the doors of all expectations and set the standard for future comic book adaptations. If you ask me (you didn’t), it’s simple.