Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on February 19, 2016
Directed by Robert Eggers
Written by Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Bathsheba Garnett, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Sarah Stephens, Julian Richings, Viv Moore, Wahab Chaudhry (voice), and Charlie the Goat as Black Phillip
You wouldn’t think there would be much to recommend about an independent horror film made by a first-time writer and director, with a minuscule budget, featuring a complete cast of unknowns (for me, anyway), with the woods of the New England colonies of the 1600s serving as its setting, and which was lacking in overt gore, gallons of spilled blood, or outright maniacal terror. But trust me, there was plenty to recommend, if you’re patient and can accept and appreciate simmering tension and underlying fear, which took precedence over cheap jump scares and typical horror carnage.
In 1630, in rural New England, a family recently arrived from overseas—husband, wife, daughter, son, and young fraternal twins—are banished from a Puritan plantation due to their religious beliefs. They venture out in a wagon loaded with their belongings and eventually find a spot to build a farmhouse, at the edge of a dense forest miles from the settlement. The wife soon gives birth to another child, and when the daughter, Thomasin, is playing with the baby outside, he suddenly vanishes, in a literal blink of an eye. Thomasin is blamed, and she is soon accused of being a witch, and the family unit begins to unravel as strange goings-on, tragedies, and death befall them.
A lot of recent horror movies I’ve watched tend to cop out and play it safe when it comes to their resolutions: the boy doll is not really alive, that woman in the forest isn’t really seeing all those dead schoolgirls, that tall man with a deadly flying sphere is really just a teenager’s nightmare. But The Witch does not cop out. I kept waiting for the hammer to fall…is the witch a vision, or maybe a dream? Are the accusations directed at Thomasin just a product of paranoia and fear? Is the rabbit just a rabbit, and the goat just a goat? Well, let me tell you: it’s not a nightmare, and it’s not someone’s imagination. The Witch tells you what it is, and how it’s going to be, and sticks to it.
I thought Eggers did a fantastic job as not only the director and screenwriter, but as a visual artist and storyteller as well, and I loved the look of the film (everything was shot with natural light and firelight) and how the family was portrayed, and how the mood—and the haunting string score—put you right in the midst of the family’s feeling of isolation and fear. Eggers wanted total authenticity in his film, and spent four years researching 17-century lives and lifestyles, speaking with historians about period clothing, furniture, and beliefs in religion and the supernatural, and basically doing whatever it took to re-create the manner and tone of the times. And it all worked, and extremely well.
I also loved the use of early English language and dialect (also heavily researched by Eggers), and though the thickness of the actors’ deliveries were tough to make out at times, it still added immeasurably to the overall flavor of the film. And speaking of the actors, I believed each and every one of them in their roles, especially Ralph Ineson as the father, whose actions, expressions, and voice had me wondering if he was flown in from the 1600s just for the part. The kids were memorable, too, which is something I don’t often say, but good lord, the two youngest children were the most chilling pair of twins I’ve seen since those two pale freaks from The Shining.
The Witch is very much a horror film, but if you come into it with typical horror expectations, you might find yourself disappointed. I’ve already read many articles and reviews detailing how audiences—horror audiences, mind you—are finding this movie slow and boring. Well, it isn’t; it takes some patience, and the ability to look beyond typical drive-in slasher flicks, and to allow yourself to be swept away by a horror film that’s different and detailed, as well as eerie and disturbing. Give this one a try, and go in with an open mind; hopefully you won’t be disappointed. (8/10)