Contains light spoilers from The Witch (2015)
I’d like to begin with a dream I had recently. In this dream, I was walking with my 2 year old daughter when a man approached us. I felt uneasy at his presence but did nothing. He then knelt down to my daughter’s level and reached out a long, thin finger. He touched her lip. As his finger left its place, I began to see a wart forming. It was growing fast. From that wart, a few others were beginning to emerge from her skin surrounding that point.
He touched her again. This time on the arm, faster than the first contact. A wart was growing there. Then more surrounding that point. He touched her leg, then her other arm. She would scream as she discovered each new colony steadily spreading. Tears now flowing freely.
Her neck, her eyebrow. Her face was unrecognizable from the daughter I knew. The virus had spread to cover most of her body. I was too afraid to hold her, to comfort my own daughter. I began to cry as well, helpless. I woke in a sweat.
Now, I really enjoy horror. I read it, watch it, follow other enthusiasts, listen to darkwave and the John Carpenter scores, and now I’m writing about it. I took pride in the fact that horror never had an effect on my life outside of what it was, that I could enjoy the genre as an art. As in, this is just a book/movie/story etc. Down the list. We all know those people. If you’re reading this now, you might be that person.
The man in that dream was Black Phillip from The Witch (2015). Not the goat Black Phillip, the man. That night I had finished my first viewing of The Witch immediately before falling asleep on the couch. It needs to be said that I am not a psychologist and have limited knowledge on how the brain and psyche operate, but this movie crept into my dreams. When I woke, the rest of my day was consumed by Black Phillip. The first time you hear his voice, the way he tempts Thomasin, the way he moves with such gentle intention. I kept going over his presence in each scene and eventual reveal in the movie.
In all honesty, The Witch is a phenomenal film. Take note, I did not say horror film. It’s beautifully shot and scored while creating the perfect amount of tension into the climax and resolution. There is art here. I don’t want to discredit this film.
Let my story be a cautionary tale. A warning. Be aware of what you are consuming.
In preparation for this, I read several articles on the effects that horror has on your brain. Studies show that it negatively impacts you because of A, B, C. Yet, somehow studies also show that horror has a positive return on investment because of X, Y, Z. This is not a critique of the genre. I’m a fan.
I have already said that I really enjoy horror and this film does not change that. But it did make me consider how I enjoy the genre. Apparently, late night, alone, after a few drinks is not the right place for me to dive into a film like The Witch. I would probably be fine with a film I’ve already seen, or one I can assume will not live up to the masterclass that is The Witch (I’m looking at you Slenderman). Most older films don’t carry the same suspension of disbelief so maybe I’m good there?
But I still have to pause and consider what I’m letting into my brain and eventual subconscious, or in my case when I’m letting it in. It is far too easy to pull up Shudder or cycle through the “Horror” pages on Netflix and start the first movie I haven’t seen. But that sort of blind inattention could be exactly what led to my visit from Black Phillip.
Let’s look at this from a different angle. If I were to watch a movie or show with gratuitous sex or naked women in every scene, chances are high that I’m going to have sex on my mind. That is the consequence.
Please do not make the mistake of misinterpreting this thought process. I do not believe consuming horror will lead someone to recreate horror. That’s not what I said. But, if you spend a couple hours submerged in that world, do not be surprised if it takes a while to resurface. Be aware.
I love my daughter. But I loved her a little more that morning.