The Best Witchy Media of 2021!
The magical! The scary! The weird! Check it out!
(The Coming of Bride, by Scottish painter John Duncan, 1917)
Greetings and a Happy Imbolc season to you all. Yes, I am getting around to the 2021 roundup a bit late, as I started a new full time job the day before Christmas, and was immersed in the Sundance Film Film Festival (online) through the end of January. We had a warm day on February 2nd followed by a massive ice storm with power outages here in New York, so winter is certainly taking its toll.
The holiday season was challenging for many, in this moment where we enter the third year of the pandemic, so you, like me, might think it’s perfectly fine to just stay at home and watch movies and TV until the weather gets better again. It’s okay to tune out the rest of the world (i.e. the news) and take respite in some entertainment. But do check in on your elderly neighbors and folks who live alone (leave them a nice card and maybe a plate of cookies or a gift card), call or text your loved ones, and commence to chilling on the sofa! Six more weeks of winter…but spring is coming!
(The Fairy Queen and her Lambs, by English illustrator Warwick Goble, 1913)
If you haven’t been living under a rock lately (and Goddess knows, who could blame you if you have been!), you’ll have noticed that witchcraft culture is simply everywhere, particularly all over social media, and that a new wave of interest in witchcraft among young people is surging daily. It’s like the late 1990s all over again! But with much more sophisticated technology, and, despite the looming spectre of climate change, a lot less engagement with ecological activism (or so it seems to me). Still, this witchcraft boom reflects the unusual and fraught times we live in: in times of fear and uncertainty, people seek answers, or yearn for distractions outside their comfort zone. And social media is a major way that people express their identity and opinions, not to mention its importance for networking and communication.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this witchcraft craze swirling around us, but for now I wanted to call your attention to some wonderful witchy films and TV that came out in the last year. I’ve included links to longer reviews for some of these. Stay tuned for more witchy media recommendations!
The Green Knight (Prime, Apple TV): An imaginative reworking of this ancient Arthurian tale stars Dev Patel as Gawain, a young knight with a comfortable life whose mother (Sarita Choudhury) casts spells to ensure his success. Soon enough, he embarks on a dangerous quest. So much beauty here, from the poetic screenplay to the sumptuous visuals, with plenty of pagan and occult symbolism, and fine supporting cast including Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris and Kate Dickie.
In the Earth (Hulu): Ben Lowery’s Sundance premiere is a return to his folk horror roots. This chilling story takes place during a pandemic: two scientists trek deep into the woods (which local legend says is haunted by a pagan spirit) to check in on a colleague doing research in a remote setting. Before they find her, they encounter a man living alone in a survivalist-style camp who is very helpful…at first.
Brand New Cherry Flavor (Netflix): A super hip horror thriller series starring Rosa Salazar as a young filmmaker in LA seeking revenge on a sexist producer who screwed her over. Catherine Keener plays an eccentric, kind-hearted witch whose story is much deeper than it appears at first.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (Prime): Will Sharpe directs this biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch as an eccentric Victorian inventor whose love of cats and nature inspires him to create thousands of illustrations that capture the world’s attention. With its stellar cast and dreamy cinematography, this story overflows with otherworldly charm.
Katla (Netflix): This Icelandic series created by Baltasar Kormakur (Trapped) is set in a small village where the impact of a recent volcanic eruption has made life difficult for the remaining residents. But when people start emerging from the ashy soil, naked and unsure of who they are, a fascinating mystery begins to unfold. Part earthy horror, part magic realism, this series is strange and captivating.
Benedetta (Prime, Apple): Based on the true story of a medieval nun accused of heresy and witchcraft, Paul Verhoeven’s sensual period piece doesn’t shy away from the lascivious antics of a nun whose record of “good behavior” is challenged when a feisty novitiate arrives at her convent.
Fear Street 1984/1978/1666 (Netflix): I found this a bit formulaic, this trilogy of three films that uses a slasher movie formula to tell a story of a town haunted by a murdering witch’s ghost, and the teenagers at a summer camp who try to escape her. But after the 1984 and 1978 installments, the final one, set in 1666, goes back to Colonial America when the town was awash in witchcraft accusations. Then it gets atmospheric and genuinely frightening. Worth a look.
I have seen some other witchy films more recently (like The Tragedy of Macbeth, and some Sundance films) and will report on those soon. Until then, stay warm and be nice and get vaccinated and wear a mask.