The Witch

'The Witch' movie poster

Release: Friday, February 19, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Robert Eggers

Directed by: Robert Eggers

In Robert Eggers’ feature film debut a certain amount of faith is required. Faith in a relatively unfamiliar cast, in the Colonial-period pressure cooker a young writer-director throws us into; faith that something terrible is going to come of all of this. Much of that faith won’t go unrewarded, for The Witch, in all its creepiness, sends chills down the spine á la The Babadook, the magnificent debut of Aussie Jennifer Kent.

Unlike that stress-inducing exercise, Eggers’ film doesn’t quite manage to cap off 80-something minutes’ worth of nervous anticipation with a suitably nerve-shattering climax. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Witch is something special, containing its madness within a world so authentic you’ll find yourself walking out of the theater babbling in Olde English about what Ye have just witnessed. Indeed production design is crucial. The very environment itself is beyond creepy. Costuming, lighting, even the score — all are tinged with an archaicness that horror hasn’t seen in some time.

Story is set in the early 17th century, and follows the degradation of a family recently shunned from their Puritan village for their — and get this — extremist religious views (how intolerant do you have to be in order to get banned from a community that exiled itself from England because they wanted to exercise their own religious freedoms?). William (Ralph Ineson, who played essentially the European version of Dwight on the original, British version of The Office) is the head of his clan and is happy to take them — a wife and five children — to a cabin at the edge of the dark and ominous woods where they’ll be free to honor God as they so please.

It’s not long before strange things start happening. Disappearing infants. Blood-squirting goats (where there ought to be milk). Paranoia runs rampant, threatening to tear the entire family apart. The devout William and Katherine (Kate Dickie) believe these situations are tests of their faith and find that they must endure, even if it’s becoming increasingly obvious their trials are a result of witchcraft and black magic. The episodes almost seem to be stemming from behaviors exhibited by one of their own, a concern that in turn ramps up our dread ten fold as things get uncomfortably personal.

Sharing Kent’s affinity for building and maintaining suspense, Eggers spends much time depicting this particular family, one that, not unlike those they’ve left behind in the security of the gated community, feels a certain sense of longing for where they came from. The Witch thrives on emotional isolation as much as it does the physical, securing solid characters and a relationship dynamic between the eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her stern parents: mother is far more hostile toward her than her gruff father. It helps that the acting is top-notch as well. The Witch proves to be yet another addition into contemporary horror, a genre in which scream queens are being drowned out by the long-suffering quiet child.

But Eggers posits that all of the bizarre activity around the settlement — crops of corn going bad, the aforementioned bloody goat (one goat in particular is likely to play a role in my nightmares tonight), and people wandering off into the woods — isn’t just a matter of circumstance. There’s an eerie connection associated with the strict adherence to religious doctrine and daily behavior. Thomasin likes to tease her younger siblings with tall tales of her being an actual witch, particularly her younger twins. Meanwhile there doesn’t seem to be a moment that goes by where William and/or Katherine aren’t questioning themselves and the innate goodness of their children.

Eggers is clearly of the thinking that less is more, employing several techniques to slowly tease out the phantasm from our minds and provide a physical rendering of it on screen. It’s an occasionally frustrating approach, given such technically impressive world-building and characters. We end up wanting more, and not for a lack of entertainment. Eggers simply concocts such an engrossing environment we want to see what kind of evil is out there, something that might intellectually match the physical authenticity of this place. Even if The Witch doesn’t quite delve deep enough into those dreadful woods, this New England folktale is likely to be seared into the memory for some time. It seems Eggers, like the witch, is for real.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 6.21.22 AM

Recommendation: The Witch serves as a fascinating study of religious belief and how effective (or, if you are less trusting, ineffective) faith can be in the face of pure evil. Austere production design effortlessly transports us back to a time and place far less forgiving of human error (or weakness, for the lack of a better word). Given that there are multiple scenes in which you could cut the tension with a knife, it actually might be best to think of the film as a thriller with horror elements rather than as pure horror.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

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29 thoughts on “The Witch

  1. I’ve heard so much great stuff about this movie and I cant wait to see it myself. Really love how indie cinema has reinvigorated the horror genre. First, The Babadook, then It Follows and now this. Super excited.

    • As you should be man. I thought The Witch was an extraordinarily creepy and effective horror. Well, more like thriller. I hate the word ‘horror’ these days. It seems to suggest we have to be “scared” sometime during the movie. I don’t think I’ve been “scared” since I was like 5 or 10 years old haha. That’s so totally not an adult feeling. Or, maybe it is. But it’s not something I feel like applies to the horror genre. War films are scary; true stories about psychopaths living among us are ‘scary.’ But things like The Witch are just uncomfortable, in the best way possible.

    • Ah okay cool. Appreciate the update on that. 🙂 Either way, if you’re comparable to Todd Packer or really any of those guys, you’re basically one unlikable human being. haha! It was really great being introduced to him here; he has such an epic booming voice. Perfectly suited for this movie. Loved it.

    • Ah, sorry I looked past your comment here Natasha! 😦 The Witch was something I really enjoyed, it was totally my kind of horror. Slow-building, creepy and intense. Atmosphere is everything. So if those things do it for you too I would say buy a ticket when this comes around your area! (Hope it does!!)

    • The Witch is quietly powerful and rewards patient, more attentive viewers (which I think fits you to a T.) You’ll have to let me know what you think here. It’s something different in this slow month of releases.

      • I will absolutely get back to you when I get to it. Pffffff, nothing to watch ANYWHERE. Living on Netflix at the moment, juggling three series at the moment, no movies around for me right now 😦

          • Well, nowadays that we have it here xD I am busy watching The X-Files, Desperate Housewives, and Pretty Little Liars (sometimes you need something incredibly brain dead hahaha). So far, I am having a lot of fun!

            • Oh I totally get that. One of my most frequently watched shows on there is Family Guy, which is the very definition of brain-dead. Haha. Sometimes you just need to turn your brain off and be entertained

  2. Very nice one Tom! The Witch sounds like my kind of movie,though I’m not a huge fan of horro,but it sounds like much more than that. Maybe its this year’s It Follows?

    • Thanks a lot man. I’m not the biggest fan of the genre myself but I do appreciate a good story especially when the filmmaker does so many things to enhance that. I think this and It Follows are similar in some ways but vastly different in others. Both are heavily reliant on atmosphere and the slow-burn/dread-inducing approach but It Follows was so metaphorical. I didn’t really read into the Witch as metaphorical but maybe others might. 🙂

      • You’re welcome! Ah, I love that slow dread inducing thing. It just gets me all tensed up and usually they don’t have super duper scary beings like in other movies. I hope this one is like It follows in that the scary part comes from something more intellectual/emotional rather than from the jumpscares and ghosts itself.

    • Dude. Go see it. 🙂 It rewards patient viewers and those who enjoy a well-told story with strong, believable characters (Ralph Ineson — hello!!!) I lapped it up. Some parts left me wanting but overall, an early contender for one of the strongest horrors of the year. I think The Enfield Polturgeist has some stiff competition now.

    • Thanks Anna. It hasn’t been received entirely well by audiences but the critcs have been lapping it up, so for whatever that’s worth 😉

  3. Really looking forward to seeing this. Love a good atmospheric horror movie, and this seems right up that street — the visuals look tremendously haunting. You always know it’s gonna be a tense, skin-crawling horror flick when Kate Dickie is involved. Top work Tom.

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