Directed by Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Katie Dickie, Ralph Ineson, Harvey Scrimshaw.
Synopsis: Set in 1630’s New England, a family’s faith is challenged after their newborn is taken from them by a witch in the nearby forest. As their crops fail to produce, and grief and paranoia sets in, the family goes down a self-destructive path – believing that a dark spell has been cast upon them, that the witch may actually be among them, they gradually turn on one another, tearing themselves apart.
Review: We here at AWNE are a tolerant bunch – we try to expand our horizons for new movies and shows that we wouldn’t necessarily see by ourselves, and in particular, the various genres within each medium. Miguel likes Sci-fi, Josh and I rarely enjoy it – it is certainly not our favorite genre. I like long epics and period dramas, Miguel and Josh seldom have the time or patience for them. And Josh, well, I’m still trying to figure that one out. One genre we typically seem to agree on in our disdain is that of horror. Now, as with any genre, one can obviously appreciate it as long as it is done well. Something that takes the typical formula of a genre – in the case of a typical horror movie these days, they tend to deliver mostly in predictable, scary gimmicks for the sake of shock value whilst never actually giving any real substance – and goes beyond the norm and delivers something remarkable and a scare that will haunt you long after you’ve left the theater. The Witch is such a movie, and one that I consider to be one of the best horror films that I have ever seen.
It’s not even that The Witch is that horrific, at least not in the traditional sense, but rather incredibly unsettling and progressively intense – it’s no surprise that this is coming from A24 (the studio that’s been delivering original goods like Ex Machina, Slow West, Under the Skin, A Most Violent Year and so on). For those of you who are generally squeamish towards horror movies, either because they’re too scary or too stupid, take my word on it, The Witch is neither and I was accompanied by representatives of both parties (not including myself, though I share the same mindset) and both were surprised by how much they liked it.
The Witch has all the right qualities that a horror movie should have. It’s a slow-burner for one. It never necessarily escalates – though it does have some seriously intense moments that are more disturbing than they are scary – it just builds and builds until the family finally unravels. It’s pace is gradual, continuously building on a sense of dread and unease that develops into disturbed and ultimately unsettled – it never indulges in a moment just for the sake of scaring you. There’s story and character to get involved in here. The antagonist is introduced early on in a grim scene that pretty much sets the tone for rest of the film, and though rarely seen, their presence is felt from then on, lingering over the home of these God-fearing people. The endlessly grim and bleak imagery emphasizes on this. Though beautiful at times, the cold palate and lingering shots sets an atmosphere that doesn’t require shocking moments to make you jump and turn away, because all the while you’re getting immersed into it, becoming more and more spooked, the best thing being that you can’t look away.
What makes the whole thing tick is the cast. I can’t tell you how many scenes there are that could’ve easily fallen flat, even to the point of being laughable, but every single cast member sells it so exquisitely. In a period preceding the Salem witch trials, the entire family flawlessly embodies the mannerisms and habits and paranoias of that time. The dialogue (being in old English) adds to the authenticity, and every cast member delivers it effortlessly. As the pious father and suspicious mother, Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie are both perfectly suited in their respective roles. Ineson perfectly characterizing the proud patriarch with his deep, formidable voice, whilst Dickie is as reliably creepy as ever. Surprisingly, however, what really sells the film is the children, in particular Anya Taylor-Joy as the victimized Thomasin. I think had any of the children been bad in their parts, especially with the complicated dialogue, this movie would have instantly failed as so much of the story and tension is built up through them. But they are all of them excellent, and Taylor-Joy is seriously a great newcomer with a lot of promise.
We all enjoy a thrill every now and then. People jump out of planes or ride insane rollercoasters just to get their jollies off. And some people like a good horror movie and a good scare with it. I, myself, like a good horror movie from time to time, and though I’d be stretched to say that The Witch is unlikely to give that huge boost of adrenaline, it’ll give something far better and something all too rare for the genre – a genuinely haunting and nightmarish experience.