The Witch

Movie Review: The Witch

By Dixielord

I don't think any horror movie in recent years has gotten the amount of buzz that The Witch from director Robert Eggers has received. From praise at Sundance to a ringing endorsement from The Church of Satan, the praise has had horror fans chomping at the bit for The Witch. But this week saw it tested with a wide release at the theater. Did it live up to its buzz or fall flat?

The Witch title card

The Witch

The Witch, billed as a New England Folketale, is the story of a pious Christian family, who leaves the comforts of society for banishment in the wilderness. Everything seems idyllic at first, the family works hard, prays hard, and tries to be as penitent as possible. It isn't long, however, before the serpent intrudes on paradise. The baby, Samuel, disappears, taken by a wolf, or so the father tries to convince his family. Other evil portents follow: the crops fail, small accidents happen, and the family's goat, Black Phillip, starts to whisper to the children.

Creepy kids from The Witch

The creepy kids from The Witch

The Witch is sure to be a hotly debated topic among horror fans. It's certainly not a film that will appeal to everyone. The pace is slow and deliberate, there aren’t many jump scares or gory effects, and the language, authentic to Puritan New England can be hard, even near impossible, to understand at times.

But The Witch is a work of art. It's beautifully shot in stark Puritan tones, almost completely devoid of colors. So that the one scene we do see color it is glaring and shocking in its own right. When we see that color, we know it is a transgression, a sin. We know shit is going to get real.

Naked Thomasin in The Witch

The Bewitching of Thomasin in The Witch

The film's score took a similar tact. Throughout a large part of the film there was no score, no music, no sound at all except what was made by the characters. The silence kept a tension building, kept me on my toes waiting for the next sound. So when there was a bump on the roof, you heard it along with the characters. Lots of movies are noisy, but The Witch found the horror of silence. Not that the score, when it played wasn't beautiful, but it was used sparingly.

The Witch is painstakingly authentic, from the look to the language. It is probably the most faithful and beautiful period piece you will ever see. They also stay true to the folklore and legends of New England witchcraft. Not only are are there the common tales we might be familiar with, like black cats and broomsticks, but there is more obscure lore, such as like witches using hares as familiars, witches writing their name in the devil's book, and Satan appearing as a black goat, Black Phillip.

 

Black Phillip from The Witch

Black Phillip, Black Phillip=The Witch

Black Phillip was a hit of the pre release buzz, and he is a integral part of the film. However, for me, he was upstaged by the twins Mercy and Jonas. They are the creepiest kids I have ever seen in film. Every time they were on screen they captured my attention. Their singing of “Black Phillip” while they chased the evil goat around the hose still echoes in my head. Young kids aren't always the most believable actors, but these two did a phenomenal job with a role that had to be difficult at their age.

Not that there was any weak acting. Ralph Ineson, who played William, was perfect in the role. Ineson is sorely under used as an actor and hopefully this will lead to more good roles in the future. In The Witch, he is a devout man, struggling to work hard and bring up his family. Yet as strong as he is, he makes mistakes, and his fear of admitting those mistakes helps destroy his family.

Thomasin in The Witch

Thomasin in The Witch

Then there is Thomasin, played by Anya Taylor Joy, who most of the film revolves around. Thomasin is a young girl living in a male dominated society and family, but with a domineering mother. She is just reaching womanhood, and her budding sexuality doesn't go unnoticed by her mother or her younger brother. She overhears her mother's plan to marry her off to get her out of the house. Obviously, Thomasin isn't content to be a child bride or to suffer a Puritan lifestyle. There is a theme of rebellion and feminism as she revolts against her mother, and father. We go through the movie cheering for her, hoping for her to survive and somehow prevail.

Which leads to the major question in The Witch. Was there ever a witch? Was the entire film simply Thomasin's descent into insanity? Was she the witch? Or was it all exactly as we saw it. Was there an evil presence in the woods? An evil so dark that even the most devout, strict, and puritanical family had no chance of salvation? Regardless of what actually happens, it makes The Witch a dark, subversive, hopeless film. It's an outstanding feature debut for director Robert Eggers, and hopefully we see more from him in the future.

As I said to begin, I know a lot of filmgoers wont like The Witch. A lot wont get it, I'm not sure I totally get it, but I can still appreciate it. It's not a gory film, where masked killers jump out at you or zombies eat you alive. There are a few incredibly disturbing scenes, one near the beginning that I wont spoil, and another one later on involving a raven. But don't expect a constant barrage of visceral horror; instead, expect to immerse yourself totally in The Witch and to be transported back to a time when witchcraft was all too real.

I give The Witch 9 out of 10 pentagrams

Posted by Allen Alberson

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