The idea of witchcraft has been weaponized against women for centuries. Sure, all sorts of bizarre logic and reasoning ran behind the witch trials, but a common denominator in his Puritan crusade was the suppression of female expression. The cry of “witch” has become synonymous with the ringing bell, instilling enough fear that women are bound to remain seen and unheard, Madonnas and not whores, contented and not ambitious, wise and not passionate. However, thanks to contemporary horror cinema, this treatment of witchcraft has changed dramatically: for horror has used witchcraft as a vehicle for feminist rage and, by proxy, female empowerment. To explore this idea further, we will examine three works of modern cinema that use witchcraft to explore women’s frustration and what this can represent in feminist discourse. The films in question, which will be discussed in chronological order, are The witch (2015) Suspiria (2018), and You won’t be alone (2022).
To start Robert Eggerit is The witch, The film’s approach to witchcraft is very traditional, due to its events taking place in the 1630s. The family is strictly bound by ideas of religious piety and takes its Puritan values and practices painfully seriously. However, despite all these elements of a period drama, The witch can be interpreted as a morbid coming-of-age tale, much like Stephen Kingit is Carrie (1974). The star character of the family and the film, Thomasin, played by the magnificently bewitching Anya Taylor Joy, is a teenager: she is in the limbo of the little girl and the adult woman. Her growing curiosity about sorcery and the witches’ attraction to darkness, her primal connection to the land, and her desire for sex are all things that initially terrify her but eventually fascinate her. When it comes to Thomasin’s interactions and body language, she starts off as demure, poised, and rather calm. However, by the film’s climax, she is a free-flowing, free-spirited, laughing maniacally as she joins the suggested “coven”. This transition from a shy child and scapegoat of the family to an independent and uninhibited young woman. Yes, the treatment settings with the devil and the creepy animal sacrifices are grotesque and, at times, hard to watch, but it’s kind of…nice to see Thomasin happy. Throughout the film, it appears that Thomasin is a scapegoat and stigmatized for her femininity: she is accused of being a seductress, the instigator of problems and stakes – whereas, boys and men draw well. Globally, The witch is a story of metaphor, like most coming-of-age stories. release and revel in their emotions. Doesn’t that sound like puberty to you?
As suggested earlier, The witch uses the coven to portray women as a united force, Suspiria does pretty much the same thing. Dario ArgentoThe 1977 original has become praised and renowned for its unique use of color and cinematography. However, it’s fair to say that the lore of its witches and what they represent seems underdeveloped and confusing, as audiences may not know how witchcraft serves the overall story. It’s there that Luca GuadagninoThe 2018 adaptation of the same name is coming. With female titans of cinema Tilda Swindon, dakota johnsonand Chloe Grace Mortez, this take on the technicolor classic takes a much grittier, darker approach – as if the subject matter wasn’t already dark! As shown by the character of Thomasin in The witch, Suspiria very deliberately uses movement and the body as a vehicle for sorcery and, by proxy, female expression. Located in a dance school, Suspiria‘s choereogaorhy feels very deliberate about conveying its themes. Johnson’s mesmerizing but wild moves show us an unleashing of carnal passion and desire, very bewitching – akin to a witch’s spell, you might say. Additionally, the adaptation is still set in 1977, which means that the time period and political climate of this film’s setting are also very important to its themes. We have the Cold War as a backdrop, creating a sense of political suffocation and tension. Moreover, in terms of women’s rights, the 1970s were not an easy time. Yes, things had progressed – certainly since the days of Thomasin – but this period still held many stereotypes and expectations of women. The fact that the film takes place in a dance school, or rather a clan of witches to face as a school of ballet, demonstrates that there still exists an ideal of women as wise and delicate creatures, designed to be groomed and ready for the public gaze. However, the freedom found in twisted, interpretive dance sheds these feminine stereotypes. Another of the main themes of Suspiria is that of matriarchal relations and generational feminism. Unlike Thomasin, who is very shunned and chastised by her own mother and her Puritan values, Susie (Dakota Johnson) is introduced to fearsome and powerful matrons who want her to realize her full potential within the coven. It captures the essence of female empowerment passed down from generation to generation, growing taller and more determined each time. This is encapsulated when it is revealed that Susie is the most powerful witch of them all – Mother Suspiriorum. Her title conveying that she will be the next to pass on this knowledge and pass on the mantle. In conclusion, Suspiria presents itself as a more modern counterpart to The witch, exploring similar themes of women’s frustration and their need to express their pent-up emotions and sexuality. However, the former offers the camaraderie of the coven – much like the classic cult The job (1996) – taking girl power to a whole new deliciously sinister level.
Finally, in our journey, we have the recent movie, Goran Stolevskyit is You won’t be alone. This time we go back in time, again – specifically to 19th century Macedonia. The difference in this case is that we are not following a prototype: this central character become a witch, because she has already is a. However, we can see potential links to the way witches and sorcery are explored in The witch at the beginning of the film. The witch in question, named Old Made Maria (Anamaria Marinca) – but we’ll call her Maria, for short – is determined to acquire a newborn baby. After meeting one with an (understandably) distressed mother, a deal is made for the child to be given to Old Maid Maria, when she turns 16. in our lives where we want to explore our emotions and drives, but often face shame and disapproval. (This being particularly relevant to women, for reasons discussed earlier.) Here we have an interesting mother-daughter relationship and young Nevena is in awe of the natural beauty of the world around her. However, after a grim encounter with a shepherd, we see that Maria is bitter towards the men and Nevena (Sara Klimoska) is niave and unaware of their foilbles. This goes against traditions that witches are seductresses, as past myths have dictated. Overall, Maria proves to be an antagonist and a vengeful yet intellectual witch. She observes patriarchal institutions and comes to understand what is expected of women in the society around her. However, in the spirit of true feminist rage, she does not engage in this. For example, she comes to understand that “eye water” (or tears) is something men want but she herself cannot produce. Maria is not a vulnerable and emotional flower, as men wish. She is calculating, logical, and a complete survivalist. To like Suspiria, You won’t be alone emphasizes women’s history and illuminates from generation to generation. Even with the film’s tragic and bitter ending, there still remains a poignant determination for a brighter and better future.
Overall, these films and their subject matter may seem purely naughty to women on the surface. However, if we choose to dig a little deeper into their environment, culture, desires, and motivations, it might be fair to call them anti-heroes. These witches all revolt against female stereotypes and institutions in order to express their own marks of femininity in their own way. Oh, and who doesn’t love a bit of gore and dark magic to get across such a powerful message?
The devious absurdity of Robert Eggers
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