Thursday, December 22, 2016

Hex and The Witch

CRAZED! December Review Dec 7/Dec14 Double Issue
Hex and The Witch
Different Mediums On the Classic Scare
By Annette Sugden

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You may remember back in October…

I planned and promised a comparison/contrast of Robert Eggers film, The Witch and the novel, HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. I had recently finished both, and it was Halloween season. Still back then the election and personal issues were making it challenging to get to working on it. I was confident though that Hillary Clinton would be elected president and all would calm down enough so I’d be caught up. Then Trump won the Electoral vote, thus making him President Elect. As a result, this review kept getting pushed aside for other content.
The review I originally thought I’d write isn’t going to happen. It’s now been a longtime since I had HEX in my hands or watched The Witch. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In fact given events that happened in the world since I completed reading and viewing those two works, I’ve had time to think about the human propensity towards mass hysteria, the fear of anything “other,” and gone back and forth on whether I actually like HEX, or if ultimately I found it to be a disappointment. I’ve never doubted my thoughts on The Witch.

Let's begin with The Witch

In Eggers’ The Witch, set in 17th century Massachusetts, a puritan family have a small farm far from any village or town, but on the edge of a large forest. The family’s oldest daughter, Thomasin loses the youngest son, still an infant, during a game of hide and seek. A witch had taken him, and we see an old crone hovering over him with a knife and then consuming his entrails. Right away the film establishes where it is historically and is rich with classic themes straight out of Nathaniel Hawthorne and even older tales and folklore, including the idea that the woods are the stronghold of an older, pagan world, represent the subconscious and the supernatural, while the cultivated earth, the towns, the farms represent the conscious mind, Christianity, civilization and safety.
The Witch’s brilliance lies in it’s use of elements gleaned from the historical elements of the Salem Witch Trials and the witch hysteria that occurred in the early puritan colonies, including covens of women meeting to commune with the Devil in the forest at night, consuming infants for power, flying in the air, and the Devil as a black, horned, goat figure.
In addition The Witch’s power comes from how many things are left open to the audience’s interpretation. Is it a straight scary period witch story? Is it an allegory using elements from history? Is it a commentary on fear and suspicion of female power and mass hysteria? I’d say it’s all of these things. It has both narrative and avant garde film elements. There’s a fever dreamlike quality to it that lends it both beauty and creepiness. For me, although I also like HEX, a different take on similar ideas, but set in contemporary New England, The Witch is a far superior work, and a lasting classic that borders on the literary and the surreal.

I’m not sure how HEX will fair over time

Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s novel, HEX is what I’d call an easy, satisfying read with intelligent elements. It’s mostly well written brain candy and if it were a horror movie, it would be creepy and scary as hell. We’re talking a movie that would invade your nightmares for it’s very visually terrifying witch spectre of Katherine who’s cursed the small village of Black Spring, since being tried, convicted and sentenced to death for witchcraft in the 17th century and who also haunts everyone in it. As a result of this the entire town has agreed to a social media black out, and does everything it can to keep the town’s secret from getting into the outside world.
Heuvelt successfully melds modern technological themes with the folkloric and Hawthornian themes of the big dark forest, witch scares and disease with Dutch American characters. His creation of the witch Katherine is also a masterpiece. Just imagining a ghost who materializes anywhere, including inside houses and without warning, who “stares” at people with sewn shut eyes and sewn shut mouth made me grateful that this image wasn’t on the book cover. It also made me excited for this book to be adapted into a horror film.
I honestly think it would be more successful as a film. At times I even felt I was reading an extended treatment for a screenplay. That’s not always bad, but I prefer books to be books. Even if I hope and imagine that someone might adapt a book into a movie, I don’t want to see the obvious, classic three act film script structure in the novel itself.
The other issue I have with HEX is related to the “translation” of the book into English. Why? Heuvelt didn’t really have someone translate his book. He rewrote his book for an American audience, changing the setting from the Netherlands to New England, USA, altering parts of the novel in other ways, and changing the ending. Nancy Forest-Flier is credited with the translation, but I’m guessing she consulted on the English with Heuvelt instead to ensure his English and Americanisms were all correct. That’s not translating a book but “rebooting” it for a different audience because the author thinks the audience won’t get it. I found that insulting. Most readers can understand and relate to stories set in foreign countries and cultures.
Frankly while I finished HEX in a day, and found it a nice diversion, I had to work hard to overlook plot holes and things that didn’t make sense. In addition as a huge fan of the T.V. series Supernatural, I couldn’t work past the thinking that all the town had to do was dig up the witch’s grave, and then salt and burn her bones. Problem solved really. Sam and Dean could have easily freed the town. Perhaps had Heuvelt not changed his original setting to the United States, this nagging idea would never have come to mind.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should skip HEX. It’s a great read on a cold, dreary day. Plus I really hope somebody makes it into a movie.
Verdict:
The Witch gets an A+
HEX gets a B

© Annette Sugden


Annette Sugden is a writer, artist, performer, dancer, actor, and a bunch of other adjectives. She’s also the founder and managing editor of CRAZED! Her work has appeared here, in Poeticdiversity.org, Gentle Strength Quarterly, Bearfoot Magazine, and Beyond Baroque Magazine. Some of her past poetry was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Sundress Best of the Net.


Crazed! is an online lifestyle, film, arts, and entertainment zine and Annette Sugden’s personal blog.
Crazed! accepts submissions including reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, and personal essay. We are also always looking for material to review and people to interview. Send queries via email to Annette at submissions@crazedzine.net or teacherpoetannette@gmail.com