The age-old concepts of witchcraft, black magic and possession are innovatively brought together to tell the intimate and riveting story of one family’s frightful unraveling in the New England wilderness circa 1630. New England, 1630. Upon threat of banishment by the church, an English farmer leaves his colonial plantation, relocating his wife and five children to a remote plot of land on the edge of an ominous forest – within which lurks an unknown evil. Strange and unsettling things begin to happen almost immediately – animals turn malevolent, crops fail, and one child disappears as another becomes seemingly possessed by an evil spirit. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, family members accuse teenage daughter Thomasin of witchcraft, charges she adamantly denies. As circumstances grow more treacherous, each family member’s faith, loyalty and love become tested in shocking and unforgettable ways.
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson
Directed By: Robert Eggers
Written By: Robert Eggers
If there’s one thing I can say about Robert Eggers’ debut film The Witch, it’s that I’ve never seen anything quite like it. This is one movie that certainly scores points for originality. The closest description I could give would be if Roman Polanski directed a loose adaptation of a Nathaniel Hawthorne story and mixed in elements of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Only, in this case, it’s a version of The Crucible in which aspects of witchcraft and the supernatural actually do manifest in the physical world.
In many respects this is really more of a film for the art house crowd than a straightforward horror movie. While it has a grim and ominous tone, it is slow paced and uses archaic language. It’s a fascinating period piece, recreating what the sound, look, and feel of life among the early Puritan settlers may have been like. It’s a movie that conveys a culture filled with a deep belief in humanity’s basic sinfulness, and a deep-rooted terror of the omnipresent temptations that can lead a soul to hell. Using documents and transcripts of the time, The Witch gives its audience a window to witness what the mind of a Puritan family may have been like. It’s a portrait of a sinful world, full of supernatural terrors, hunger, and despair. It’s also a world that can, at times, be quite bloody and violent, so a word of warning to those who may be squeamish.
I wish I could say I liked The Witch, but ultimately it’s a film that I respect more than I actually liked. I appreciate that it is so diligent in creating a period piece, using language, costumes, and actors that are believably of the time. I think it’s interesting that so much research went into trying to understand the folklore and mindset of the early New Englanders. I like that there is an ambiguity about what the characters perceive is happening and what the audience should believe is “really” happening. However, I have the same complaint about this film that I did about Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. Having been exposed to a year of formula, routine, same-old same-old movies from the big studios, why is it that when somebody comes out with a fresh and original genre film there seems to be a requirement that it be downbeat, violent, and make you feel bad?
I like a good horror movie as much as the next guy, but this one isn’t fun and it isn’t scary. Instead it’s a slow-burn film that leaves you with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, and I’m not entirely sure what we get out of that. It’s well crafted, it’s different, and it’s original, but in the end I don’t know that it’s particularly insightful. In addition it’s not fun, it’s kind of boring, and it makes you feel bad. For me, all of that adds up to something of a mixed bag.