The most understated movies about witchcraft
Our cup ranneth over when we heard Netflix would be giving Chilling Adventures of Sabrina a similar witchtastic treatment to Riverdale. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a wholly darker, more mature tale. It may even be the darkest young adult show on air, or at least on Netflix.
Between Twitter blowing up over Lana Del Rey apparently succeeding in her hex on the current President and the countless new films about witchcraft hitting theaters and SVOD services all the time, we’re officially living in a peak witch era and loving it.
There have been a lot of great movies over the years that have pushed witchcraft front and center as part of their narrative – like Robert Eggers’s The Witch, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch, and Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not a Witch – but we’re also incredibly fond of films that utilize witchcraft in a more subtle way.
Whether witchcraft is part of a surprise reveal at the end of the movie, a witch is depicted with subtlety and suggestion, or witchcraft is used as a background element to add dimensions of terror to a supernatural story, these films explore witchcraft in surprising low-key ways. Here’s our ranking of the eight best understated movies about witchcraft that do exactly that (with a fair warning that some of these do include potential spoilers).
8. The Wicker Man (1973)
Unspooling a strange story centered around ancient Pagan rituals, The Wicker Man remains one of the most unique depictions of witchcraft in cinema history in how it doesn’t subscribe to populist portrayals of it. Instead, the Paganism is naturalistic and all the more unnerving for it, right up until the harrowing moments where Edward Woodward (Hot Fuzz) is screaming for his life and Christopher Lee (Dracula) is looking totally blessed by his suffering.
7. The Conjuring (2013)
Witchcraft lingers in the background of James Wan’s (Aquaman) hit supernatural horror, haunting the dilapidated farmhouse of the Perron family. The wrath of an accused witch who sacrificed her baby to the devil and cursed all who took her land bites through every moment of the movie, even if it’s ostensibly more about a haunting than the witch tormenting the family.
6. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
Oz Perkins’s brutal story about a young girl (Kiernan Shipka) encountering an unseen sinister presence at an isolated prep school is a slow-burn with a sharp, shocking finale. Added intrigue comes courtesy of a simultaneous subplot concerning the journey of a troubled young woman (Emma Roberts) to the same school where the aura of witchcraft lingers suspiciously around every moment of evil.
5. Suspiria (1977)
“Do you know anything about . . . witches?” If you were lucky enough to watch Dario Argento’s (Deep Red) giallo masterpiece without knowing a thing about it, the slow reveal of the movie’s menacing witches won’t have been immediately obvious to you from the offset. The film cleverly pivots around the idea of witchcraft without making it a conspicuous entity, making it all the more creepy as a result.
4. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Alright, so “understated” isn’t a word you could ever use to describe a Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) movie, but with Drag Me to Hell the concept of witchcraft isn’t as central to the film as the idea of revenge is. In fact, some fans still argue over whether the movie’s antagonist can even be counted as a witch. We think she most certainly is, even if the depiction of her supernaturally torturing Christine (Alison Lohman) doesn’t perfectly embody the average mainstream movie witch.
3. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Rosemary’s (Mia Farrow) realization of the sinister agenda of her ritualistic neighbors via the book All Of The Witches is a powerful and chilling moment in Roman Polanski’s breathtaking masterpiece. The film is more often remembered for being centered around straight-up occultism rather than being a film about witches, which speaks to the power of how well the film details Rosemary’s slow awakening to her situation and Guy’s (John Cassavetes) sinister gaslighting of her.
2. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
We’re still blown away by André Øvredal’s (Trollhunter) atmospheric horror based on The Blacklist ranked screenplay by Ian B. Goldberg (Fear The Walking Dead) and Richard Naing (Dead of Summer).
Subverting a number of horror tropes and expectations, the movie does an astonishing job of exploring the violence enacted upon women throughout history while unravelling a series of mysterious clues. The film’s exploration of witchcraft is subtle and suggestive and utterly terrifying for its power within the story.
1. Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
The Paranormal Activity franchise takes a lot of heat for being a repetitive example of the found footage genre stuffed with cheap jump scares.
However, we’re of the opinion the Henry Joost (Nerve) and Ariel Schulman (Catfish) directed third film isn’t just the best of the lot, but also one of the most underrated mainstream horrors of the past decade. Part of that comes down to some innovative camera work and creepy atmospherics, but it also rests in the surprising finale that ties the lore of the films directly to a powerful coven of witches.