First things first: ‘The Witch’ suffers from another case of misleading-trailer-iris (it’s a real disease, honestly). This movie is not a jump-scare-fest, laden with gory special effects and a killing monster. It’s a paranoid drama that prides itself on being honest to the material on which it is based – the 1600s witch hysteria – and being really intensive on religion and escalating fear. It’s a damn good horror film, better than most of the other garbage out there today, and the only thing I can think of to compare it to in recent years is Joel Edgerton’s ‘The Gift’; not because of the subject matter, but because both movies capitalise on playing the pace and tone right, and having the audience constantly be on the edge of their seat. I went to see it because I heard of all the Sundance buzz this movie got, and I was not disappointed.
The film centres on a family in the 1630s, trying to survive in the wilderness after being banished from their New England plantation, when sudden strange occurrences begin happening on their new farm, leading to a witch hunt amongst the family. It’s a beautifully shot film, with bleak, dark colors throughout, and the pacing of this film is very well executed. Although the first twenty or so minutes drag a little bit, afterwards it is nonstop suspense. ‘The Witch’ feels like cinematic witchcraft, in that it sucks its audience in to another world.
However, there are still flaws. For one, the musical score was not what it needed to be. In classic horrors like ‘The Shining’, the piercing score was unsettling and added to the suspense. In this, the score sounds distracting and painful to the ears. It’s not a good accompaniment to the story, and the volume should have been turned down substantially. Also, for a film that is only 92 minutes long, the ending does not feel properly set up. The ending is creepy, sure, but it feels like once the “big twist” happens, nothing else comes to light. The overall resolution could have been elevated to an even higher and scarier level, if it didn’t feel tacked on, which, unfortunately, is exactly how it comes off, and as a result it doesn’t stick with the mind too long.
The imagery that is present throughout the script is very well done, where it is shown enough to be comprehended by the critical eye, but it’s not too blunt to the point that it comes off as condescending or just pretentious. My personal favourite part of this movie however, was the fantastic unknown cast that was assembled. The lead protagonist, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), shows that she can handle parts that would be hard to pull off. She cleverly displays her paranoia, whereas, when the rest of her family is going nuts over all this witchcraft, she is logically trying to figure it out. Though it doesn’t help to be practical and logical when everyone around is so god-fearing that nothing ever gets done. All of the performances are spectacular, especially from the child actors. Since it is so hard to get good child performers, credit is entirely deserved where credit is due. The standout for me was the father William, played by Ralph Ineson, who had such screen presence that I was unable to take my eyes off of what he was doing.
Overall, this film definitely is better than most other horror movies out today, though it certainly is not for the average filmgoer. The story is compelling and somewhat original compared to other “witch” movies, and everything on a technical level is done very well. Mainstream audiences, I fear, will not find it very “scary”, and that is because the film isn’t going for that, it’s creepy and unsettling. But I feel that if one wanted to see a horror in theatres, and can appreciate something outside of jump-scare tactics, you should go check this out. It’s 92 minutes of sheer, suspense-filled fun.
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie