Millions of Americans are fascinated by horror-filled, demonic movies (remember The Exorcist?). Although admittedly a “niche market,” the supernatural thriller genre has become a big moneymaker for movie studios. As well, many directors make their creative debut behind the lens of such movies because these are the films that studios will entrust to otherwise unproven talent.
Consider the new spiritually infused thriller, The Witch.
First-time director Robert Eggers’ horrifying tale of a Puritan-era family that encounters unexplainable, evil forces in the woods near their rural New England farm won him the “Best Director” prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. A24 Films—the same people who brought you Ex Machina and Room—purchased The Witch (which had a $3.5 million budget) last year and is undoubtedly pleased with a $9 million opening weekend for such a “small” movie.
But putting aside the impressive financial success of The Witch, what jumps out to even the casual observer is the film’s unusual marketing strategy.
Wired.com called the film “sinister, smart, and wildly feminist”:
The Witch is the kind of horror film diehard genre fans constantly hunger for, but rarely get. That’s because while it’s as unsettling as any scary movie should be, writer-director Robert Eggers’ first feature is also smarter than much of its ilk—blending old-time religion with modern feminist ideas in a way that can be totally missed if you’re not looking, and greedily devoured if you are.
Because there’s nothing fans of the horror genre want more than “wildly feminist” content!
But wait—it gets even better. To work up strong pre-release buzz for The Witch, A24 Films partnered with the Satanic Temple and its “spokesperson” (spokeswitch?) Jex Blackmore.
The idea of the witch as any sort of female outsider, Blackmore says, “actually did a lot of harm to our society.” To point out that harm, and how it’s still present in the treatment of women today, the Satanic Temple partnered with The Witch’s distributor, A24, to host a series of screenings and performances—dubbed the Sabbat Cycle—in New York, Los Angeles, Texas, and Detroit. The Temple—which, it should be noted, is a non-theistic organization more aligned with issues like reproductive rights and same-sex marriage than the Devil himself—hopes to use the film to explore the ties between historical and modern bigotry and inspire a “Satanic uprising.”
“As Satanists, we are ever mindful of the plight of women and outsiders throughout history who suffered under the hammer of theocracy and yet fought to empower themselves,” Blackmore said when announcing the Satanic Temple’s support of the film. “While the patriarchy makes witches of only the most socially vulnerable members of society, Eggers’ film refuses to construct a victim narrative. Instead it features a declaration of feminine independence.”
So if “wildly feminist” story arcs aren’t your bag, but worshiping Lucifer (via your support for reproductive rights) is, then this is your kind of movie.
To be fair, movie studios now seek out partnerships and endorsements from churches and religious leaders when one of their faith-based films is about to be released. In the free marketplace of ideas and commerce, there’s nothing wrong with a private film company choosing to partner with the Satanic Temple for the release of their new “We’ll show those Bible-thumping, chauvinistic, horror-film-making predecessors of ours!” movie.
But we also don’t have to pay to watch it. And you shouldn’t.