After the recent one-two (three and four) punch of “It Follows,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” “The Babadook,” and “Goodnight Mommy,” the chilling swell of arthouse horror has been hitting a crescendo of late (sorry, Bret Easton Ellis). But capturing the arty horror zeitgeist like no other is “The Witch,” the feature-length debut of filmmaker Robert Eggers which earned A24 Films their biggest opening ever.
A big smash out of Sundance Film Festival last year where the film won Eggers the Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic category, “The Witch” follows a 17th century Puritan family excommunicated from their village who, when forced to fend for themselves, encounter forces of evil in the woods beyond their New England farm. And “The Witch” is sensational (read our review), the modern heir apparent to “The Shining,” and a movie that seemingly mixes the unnerving chill and cinematic vision of Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman all rolled into one.
Perhaps more than anything, a film as assured as “The Witch” announces the arrival of a fully-formed new filmmaker who is instantly one to watch. Eggers is here to stay and watching his career grow should be terrifically exciting. In our latest “The Movies That Changed My Life” feature, the filmmaker was terse but informative about his eclectic and defining movie experiences and influences.
1. The first moviegoing film experience you can remember.
I remember seeing re-releases of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Bambi” in the theater very young. They had huge impacts on me, particularly the dark aspects. “Conan the Barbarian,” “Star Wars,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Wizard of Oz” were my earliest VHS obsessions. I still know the lyrics to pretty much any “Mary Poppins” song. “It’s good to be alive in 1910…”
2. The best moviegoing film experience you ever had.
Impossible to say. From “E.T.” to “Andrei Rublev,” there have been too many.
3. The first film you saw that made you realize you wanted to be a filmmaker.
“Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga” was huge for me. Seeing how all the creatures were made, looking inside Jabba The Hut, all of the maquettes lined up, building the world… “This is a job?!” I was always avidly watching special features and behind the scenes stuff. Of course, I still am.
4. The first film you saw that you realize you could be a filmmaker.
I’m still realizing this…
5. The movie that always makes you cry (or the movie that is your emotional comfort food).
“The Son,” by the Dardenne Brothers. So cathartic, so powerful.
6. The movie that always freaks you out/makes you scared.
7. The film you’ve re-watched more than any other.
“The Shining.” I watched it so many times in my early-mid 20s to try and understand how to make a film with sustained tension.
8. The movie you love that no one would expect you to love.
I already mentioned “Mary Poppins” and I still love it. But maybe that’s expected. She’s a witch.
9. The movie that defined your coming-of-age/high school experience.
“Nosferatu” is a film that I have been obsessed with since elementary school, I was probably 10 when I saw it first. When I was 17, I directed and adapted the film into a play, with my friend Ashley Kelly-Tata (who now directs experimental opera). It was a silent film on stage – black and white expressionist makeup, costumes, and sets – almost like a ballet set to Schoenberg. This was a senior-directed play, and it was seen by a local theater impresario and artist, Edouard Langlois, who asked me to bring it to his theater, The Edwin Booth. Being taken seriously like that – this changed my life.
10. The movie that defined your childhood.
Along with “Nosferatu,” I sought out any and every film version of “Dracula.” I had a VHS tape that was a compilation of trailers of Dracula films that I watched ‘til it died – I wish I could remember what it was called. Anyway, it was my guide. Bela Lugosi, Frank Langella, the zillions of Christopher Lee versions, Jack Palance, on and on. Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is also in the running for most viewed film. Needless to say, I was Dracula for Halloween many times.
“The Witch” is in theaters now.