‘The Witch’ Takes You Into Dark Territory (Movie Review)

the witch thumbIf you needed a reminder that 17th century living was rough, The Witch is certainly a film that will get under your skin. Here’s a story of a Puritan family forced out of society and attempting to make a living through simple means. This is not easy, but the threat of witchcraft exacerbates things in a film that is every bit as creepy as it is staggeringly authentic to its setting.



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Writer/director Robert Eggers has come up with a story that he was finally able to realize on film, after dealing with execs turning down his more obscure ideas. Thankfully horror is almost always an easy sell, but The Witch does more than just throw a bunch of innocents into turmoil. Thanks to a large amount of research and dedication, this film devotes itself to the rules of the time period.

A committed cast is game to participate in the moody (to say the least) atmosphere, which requires them to speak dialogue that seems ripped out of the journals of actual Puritans. They also dress and behave in ways that seem ever so precise. Were this not a genre film, you’d likely be able to craft a fine domestic drama and focus on the various squabbles between this family.

Alas, The Witch does not take long to reveal what is has up its sleeves. Poor, young Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is forced to deal with the fallout of a witch causing harm to her family, one by one. Things smart small with her youngest sibling being snatched away from her in the simplest of moments. Her mother (a stern Kate Dickie) holds Thomasin in harsh contempt, but this is just the beginning.

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The Witch is not a film made up of jump scares, but it still provides plenty of reasons to be nervous. That largely comes from heavily realistic way it presents itself. Obviously we are dealing with supernatural fiction, but Eggers applies such a strong hand on getting the details right that you cannot help but believe in what’s going on. The film draws you in from the outset and has you feeling trapped amongst dark forces. There is no escape from this family’s plight and as the film goes on, you realize how inevitable things become.

You certainly hope for the best. Investing yourself in Thomasin and her father (Ralph Ineson) means you anticipate some sort of justice to come along. Of course, being familiar with Arthur Miller means you know that whether there are witches or not, stubbornness, fear and strong beliefs triumph over what can be considered fair and reasonable. Whether or not this family will overcome the evil that has taken an interest in him, you know it will be frustrating to deal with the various forms of fallout.

Frustration could easily rub some the wrong way, let alone being a film that never betrays its tone. Of course, The Witch should be celebrated for sticking to its guns, but perhaps convention is preferred by some who hate bad things happening to good people, followed by more bad things. I’ve certainly made it clear that having a mean streak requires justification for me to respond more favorably to a story or characters. The Witch accomplishes this through craft.

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Shot in a forest the cast and crew may as well have time traveled to, the very committed cast and thought-provoking fallout from what takes place was plenty to keep my mind racing with ideas. Sitting in a theater and feeling worried is not a bad side effect from this film either, as it just shows me how effective Eggers was in delivering true dread. Stark visuals from cinematographer Jarin Blaschke and an effective score by Mark Korven only further help things along.

The film’s final sequence obviously deserves some thought as well and while I will not spoil what occurs, I can say the payoff worked for me. It may be divisive, but a film that stands as being unorthodox for approaching a self-proclaimed ‘folktale’ with such realism easily deserves a finale that skews away from the norm.

There is a lot to admire in The Witch. Eggers has crafted a disturbing film that keeps things fairly simple, but feels loaded with ideas and personal commitment from many involved. With thick atmosphere and a unique approach, this feature film delivers on being startling in a way that will sit with you. At the very least, maybe it’s a good idea to stay out of the woods in New England.

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