Director – Robert Eggers
Cast – Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Bathsheba Garnett, Sarah Stephens
Release Year – 2016
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This is a film I wasn’t all that interested in, but the hype and the fact that I could possibly watch a good, non-Hollywood film on the big screen was enough to convince me to give it an opening weekend watch. Why wasn’t I interested? Well, the trailer never hooked me. I loved the look and feel of the film, but aside from that I expected this to be a snoozer. So was I right? Yeah, but it’s a damn good one. An expertly shot film from auteur Robert Eggers, the story may be unfulfilling for those looking for action and adventure, but nonetheless this is a slow-burner whose ever-present sense of dread is guaranteed to leave you with chills.
Set in 1630 New England, a devout Puritan family is banished from their township and must find refuge near an impenetrable wilderness harboring a witch. Their crops won’t grow and hunting for food proves unsuccessful, but that is the least of their worries. When their newborn child is stolen by the witch, the family then turns on each other, leaving them vulnerable to what lies in the woods.
For a slow-burner the story sure did take off fast. The tragedy of losing their newborn son takes place within the first 5 minutes of the film. Because of this you may find yourself thinking the remainder of the film will move at a fast pace – it does not. If you are familiar with Ti West’s films then you should expect the same tempo template with The Witch. As the story progresses the conflict grows and that helped in keeping me engaged in what was going on. The family is devout in their beliefs, and witches were deeply feared around this time (30 years before the Salem Witch Trials). When evidence indicating a supernatural presence is menacing them from within the woods, they begin to turn on each other and internal issues make their way forward. As you can tell, the film has a lot of family drama in it. Anxiety and distrust consume them and this makes them susceptible to the witch and her master, Satan.
So how is the horror? Well, that will definitely be up to the beholder. I never once found the film scary. If anything it has a few creepy scenes, but nothing that left me wanting to see it again. Horror fans have probably heard that this film scared the hell out of Stephen King. He hasn’t scared me since I was a child, so his praise of the film isn’t convincing for me. The horror is good, but it seldom manifests into something more than traumatic visuals of Satanic influence. There are many scenes that tease at something very sinister is about to happen, but instead the tension burns out and I was left unfulfilled. Keep in mind this is strictly a personal opinion from my point of view. As a whole, the horror is sneaky, cunning, and very much resembles the antagonists in the film.
I applaud writer/director Robert Eggers for expertly executing the film. From the get-go he maintained a constant state of dread to loom over you. I cannot think of a single happy moment that occurred in the film. The location, set in Canada due to a more attractive tax break, shows the viewer how isolated the family is. If there is trouble, nobody is going to come looking for them. They must do everything on their own. . The acting performances are solid, with everyone fulfilling their Old English dialogue better than I expected they would. Eggers’ execution of the horror is where he really exceeds. Sure the horror teased too much for my liking, but that is a story-related issue. When the horror does come to light I was shocked at how vivid the scenes were. He takes an almost no-holds-barred approach to witches dancing in the nude, human sacrifice, and demon possession. With such a tremendous performance in his breakout role, Robert Eggers is a name we will be seeing again.
Overall, The Witch is a crafty slow-burner unlike any horror film you will see on the big screen these days. It won’t appease those looking for an action-packed onslaught. Instead, it creeps under your skin in brilliant fashion.