I have been eagerly anticipating watching this movie since I first received advanced screening tickets last Winter. Unfortunately at the time I was sick, and I ended up not going. This movie, however had been on my must-see list ever since. And finally, this past weekend I was able to see it.
The Witch was well worth it, and managed to exceed my own expectations. I have not reviewed a film in a while, but this is one I want to share my thoughts on, so here goes.
Everything about this film is haunting, and wretchedly beautiful. Filmed in northern Ontario, and set in 1630 New England there is a darkness about this film that at once captivated and repulsed me.
Which is exactly what I want from a horror film.
After seeing this movie (and I intend to see it again) I was not surprised to learn that director Robert Eggers won Best Director at Sundance last year.
By bringing to life their worst nightmares, this film gives us a much greater insight into the life and beliefs of early Puritan settlers. As a social history nerd I appreciated that the dialogue was delivered in early modern English, which is what they would have spoken. The attention to details, with only a handful of tiny exceptions, and the years of historical research that were put into the film give it an authenticity that lacks in many period pieces. Yes, I know I'm being a history snob, but the film was far more powerful because of it.
The Witch follows a Puritan family from their exile out of an established settlement to an isolated and harsh location on the edge of a forbidding wilderness. Soon after arriving in this wild and untamed place their decent into a horrific black magic paranoia begins, and it culminates with the branding of their eldest child Thomasin as a Witch. An accusation that could have very easily been a death sentence in that time period and culture.
The word Witch even today is seen as ugly and dirty within many different cultures, and religious beliefs.
In an interview with The Daily Beast Robert Eggers had this to say about the nightmarish place he transports us to in his film:
"To immerse you in this world, you have to understand that they really believed in this stuff," he said. "Fairytales bled into reality. I wanted you to experience that. I'm not judging them or their beliefs. Shitting on religion in 2016 is so easy, what's the point?"
And you do feel a sense of genuine terror and sympathy for the family. People of that time really did believe, and that is what is brought home to us so frighteningly in this movie. As someone who is interested in the occult and in Parapsychology I also must consider that in part some strange things really did happen, and were interpreted through Puritan lenses, which are so strange and foreign to my own.
Anya Taylor-Joy played the part of Thomasin the protagonist, brilliantly. In interviews she relates how she believes in magic and grew up surrounded by it.
"I love magic. As a kid I would run into the woods and try to find witches and be like, ''Yo, I'd like to join you. There are magic moments you get as an actor where you react to something so strongly that you feel it in your body. There were a couple of lines throwing the word "witch" around where I literally was like "Whoa, that's what that means."
From the moment baby Sam was stolen to the horror of having her parents turn against her I found my 21st century soul rooting for Thomasin. It was as if I could feel where the hysteria would lead, and therefore the conclusion was more of a final freeing and liberating in my mind.
There was much symbolism woven into this tale. And while the Director has said, and I believe him, that he did not set out to make a feminist movie, that is of course what the story of witches really is. All women as noted are still living with the ramifications of the "Evil Witch" archetype to this very day.
The conscious and subconscious fears of female power, and sexuality are really the driving force behind the witch hysteria of the time. And yes, while some men suffered as accused witches as well, it was predominately females who were tried and executed. Women were generally believed to be weaker both physically and morally than men, and therefore more likely to be taken in by the Devil's charms.
The film explores family dynamics, and the very clearly defined roles in the Puritan era. It also delves into the very different concerns and expectations of daughters versus sons. And male versus female sexuality.
All of this works to cast a spell on the viewer, sorry I could not resist the pun, and really keep us captivated throughout the well paced film.
I have heard some negative comments among the genuine accolades this film has earned. And I am guessing this may be because it does not appeal to the average horror fan, despite containing many of the elements you would find in a horror film. What we have here is more of a psycho drama or psychological thriller set in a frightful past and steeped in folklore. And clearly this not your average Hollywood movie, it is elevated, intriguing, and at times genuinely disturbing.
In a handful of words I can sum up by saying I loved it.
And I sincerely hope to see more films from Robert Eggers.
My copy of Haunted Ontario Lakes
It is a dark and chilly late October day. The wind is quite literally whistling outside my window as I sit down to write-up this review for Haunted Ontario Lakes. And I cannot help, but to feel this is the perfect time for anyone to get into some good ghostly tales.
Anyone who knows me and my love of all that is spooky, especially when it comes to books will not be surprised to hear that I brewed up a pot of some fine Earl Grey tea on a damp, cold late Fall day and sat down with this book and read through it literally in one sitting. Not only is the book a fun and easy read, it is very well researched and I am a stickler for good historic works. The stories that are presented are not fictional. In fact they are written with both reported, historical, and even personal accounts of both writers, the latter making this even more worthwhile as you gain a sense of actually visiting the various locations along with Andy and Maria.
I am a researcher and the current webmaster of the The Toronto, and Ontario Ghosts and Hauntings Research Societies which has been active in Ontario for 18 years. I also provide research material on ghosts and hauntings to PSICAN - Paranormal Studies and Investigations Canada. I'm giving you my paranormal CV as a way of saying you might think that I have heard pretty much all of the ghostly goings on within my own province. And for the most part you'd be right. This is why I am always pleasantly surprised when the authors find new information and even stories. Some of the stories contained in the book are historical, but many are fresh and will be new to most readers.
There are a good number of fantastic reports of encounters with ghosts and, tantalizingly, other supernatural elements. I do not want to giveaway any spoilers, but I will say locations covered in the book include pubs to theatres to resorts, and almost all are places you can visit now. An interesting amount of family stories are included, and many involving the ghosts of children, but that is to be expected when dealing in this topic and geographical area.
While the book is Ontario-centric it should appeal to anyone who is interested in well researched, and true ghost stories. As I mention above most of the locations are accessible to the general public. If you enjoy being a paranormal tourist this book is well worth the read and another interesting way to plan your next trip out to Ontario's vacation area lakes. It is a perfect companion and follow up to their earlier Cottage Country Ghosts.
Haunted Ontario Lakes is available at most local bookstores, big box stores like Chapters and directly from Lone Pine Publishing.
Haunted Ontario Lakes
Authors Maria Da Silva and Andrew Hind
Ghost House Books/Lone Pne Publishing
The Royal York Hotel - Toronto The Toronto Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society
The season premiere of American Horror Story: Hotel is set to debut shortly and with the question of why hotels, motels, and inns factor into horror fiction and real life ghost encounters was recently posed to me by a reporter for the National Post. I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on this spooky topic here through my blog and provide a listing of what I believe are some of Canada's more infamous haunted hotels.
If you think about it we are at our most vulnerable in our own homes, it is where we let our guards down, where we shower, and bathe and where we sleep. When we travel and we book ourselves into a motel, an inn or hotel we are putting our complete trust into these establishments, by being our home away from home. For this reason they naturally lend themselves as a backdrop to scary fiction and horror movies as they represent places where we can be found at our most vulnerable. Films such as Psycho, and The Shining, along with more recent television offerings like The Bates Motel, and American Horror Story, which combine the supernatural and psychopathic killers, use these locations to entertain while unnerving us to much success.
I personally believe that the reputation for hauntings within hotels is a little more complex than just exposing our vulnerability in an unfamiliar setting. My own research into these locales demonstrates that it is equally likely that the staff members will report ghost encounters as it the guests. If I compare these findings with other places that are statistically higher in the number of ghost reports from public places such as hospitals, and theatres what is suggested is that places where there is a lot of human experience and drama are more likely to be haunted. Ghosts tend to haunt where people lived, worked and played and hotels tend to fit all three of those things quite nicely.
In general staying in an unfamiliar place can be unnerving for some people, and if you combine a rich history and ghostly lore our imaginations could run wild particularly as hotels have earned their places in horror fiction. However, most personal encounters that I have examined over the years including my own overnight visits to the Guild Inn which had a lengthy history of being haunted before being torn down, are far less dramatic than anything you'll find in a good scary book or movie. These types of experiences are far more likely to make you go hmmm than send you fleeing for your life.
The Canadian Pacific Hotels in particular (Canada's castles) are from a by-gone age and all of them seem to have a ghostly legend or two attached. Some of these stories can be traced back to actual historical events while others, their origins are obscured through time and retelling and perhaps more influenced by the setting of these magnificent places that really do inspire a good ghost story.
Whatever your own belief in ghosts and spirits may be, people from all walks of life do encounter strange and ghostly things on occasion while staying in these places. Their reputation as a haunt is very much intact and their ghostly lore will live on long after their current guests have checked out.
Haunted Hotels Across Canada
Where to begin.... there are just so many haunted accomodations from the grand CP hotels along the Grand Trunk, ancient inns around Niagara on the Lake and the Muskokas, motels and B&Bs from coast to coast. Here is a very limited listing in no particular order. Click on the name to be taken to a page that will give you more information on the hauntings.
The Guild Inn - Scarborough Ontario
Stories prior to it demolition include an apparition of a tall man with a black top hat, a blue and brown eyed child ghost, poltergeist activity. The grounds are still reputedly haunted. The link details some of my own experiences at the Guild Inn.
The Royal York Hotel - Toronto Ontario
An apparition of a grey haired man appears in a maroon smoking jacket and slacks silently moving along the hallway of the eighth floor of the dormitory tower. He is also encountered on the stairwells.
Banff Springs Hotel - Banff Alberta
Secret rooms, apparitions, and even a story of time travel within this beautiful old hotel.
Marlborough Hotel - Winnipeg Manitoba
The real ghosts and hauntings at this infamous Canadian hotel have inspired author Maureen Flynn to write a fictional story based on them which I review here.
Fort Garry Hotel - Winnipeg Manitoba
The ghost of a woman who apparently committed suicide is said to haunt room 202. She has been seen, floating above the foot of the bed. This same woman is also believed to haunt the lounge, where she is said to be seen crying.
The Bessborough Hotel - Saskatoon Saskatchewan
The hotel has a reutation for being haunted by the spirit of a smiling older man, who is dressed in a gray suit and wearing a fedora. He has been seen by staff walking on the banquet floor late at night. He is reported to be harmless, and most do not even realise he is a ghost when first encountering him.
The Algonquin Hotel - St. Andrews By The Sea New Brunswick
Legends of ghostly apparritions and a poltergeist haunt this historic hotel on the east coast.
The Fairmount Empress - Victoria British Columbia
"There is a local legend that The Empress is haunted. The apparition of thin mustached man walking the halls with a cane is thought to be of the building’s architect, Francis Rattenbury. A maid is seen on the sixth floor still cleaning after her death. A little girl who is often seen by guests haunts one room. During the 1960s, a construction worker working on the west tower’s top floor saw a shadowy form swinging from the ceiling; apparently another worker hung himself there a year earlier. Guests have reported an elderly woman in pajamas knocking on their door. When guests try to help her find her room she leads them toward the elevator before vanishing. She is believed to be a ghost that once haunted one room after dying of natural causes, but that room was demolished to make room for more elevators, hence, her journey to the elevator." Source: West Coast Living Canada
The Queen Elizabeth Hotel - Montreal Quebec
Phantom footsteps, apparitions, and poltergeist activity have been reported from this beautiful old hotel in Montreal
Can you add to the list above? Have you encountered a ghost or spirit in a haunted hotel? If so please leave me a comment I'd like to hear your story.
All images within this post that were not taken by me or are in the public domain in Canada have been licensed under the creative commons non-commercial use license.
This past June I wrote about a terrific local artist I met at the NA-ME-RES Summer Solstice pow-wow at Fort York. Raven Crow has developed a series of coloring books that are based on her artwork that she used as a form of therapy in her recovery from a series of devastating strokes. Her art and her colouring books have been aptly named The Gifts That Come From My "Strokes" and are available for purchase at various events and through her website here.
We totally bonded over art and specifically coloring as a form of therapy. I told her how I recovered from two major surgeries in 2013 and 2014 through the love of colouring and coloring books, and of course after seeing her stuff I wanted to colour Raven's drawings.
Here is my colouring book.
Last week I buggered up my knee and I have been working via laptop with my leg propped up. This also gave me the perfect opportunity to indulge in some colouring. Here are two example from Raven's book.
So much fun and so relaxing.
I really believe there is a power to heal through creative expression and I want to thank Raven for her beautiful inspiring drawings and more importantly her courageous self.
Please do check her out online at The Gifts That Come From My "Strokes
Spent a relaxing day hiking and just being in nature, when I bumped into this wee fella.
I've been experimenting with the macro setting on my camera. Here is another angle.
I love the honeybees
A few more pics from Sauble Beach, Ontario, Canada. One of my favourite places to visit.
^^ It's a fresh water beach so need to worry about this guy!
I've managed to work in Mars Cosmic Fries, and JAWS at the beach.... definitely my kind of vacation
Garden dwarfs or gnomes originated in 19th-century Germany, where they became known as Gartenzwerge. My neighbour is quite fond of them.
GNOME, n. In North-European mythology, a dwarfish imp inhabiting the interior parts of the earth and having special custody of mineral treasures. Bjorsen, who died in 1765, says gnomes were common enough in the southern parts of Sweden in his boyhood, and he frequently saw them scampering on the hills in the evening twilight. Ludwig Binkerhoof saw three as recently as 1792, in the Black Forest, and Sneddeker avers that in 1803 they drove a party of miners out of a Silesian mine. Basing our computations upon data supplied by these statements, we find that the gnomes were probably extinct as early as 1764.
Ambrose Gwinett Bierce who I quote above was an interesting character himself. He was a was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist, and satirist at the turn of the last century. He wrote the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and compiled a satirical lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary.
His last known communication with the world was a letter he wrote to a close friend, dated December 26, 1913. After closing this letter by saying, "As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination," he vanished without a trace, his disappearance becoming one of the most famous in American literary history, never resolved beside much speculation and spawning legends, folklore, and inspiring horror fiction.
You can read more about this facinating case here.
And then there is my gnome zombie.....