“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?…”
In 1630 New England, panic and despair envelops a farmer (Ralph Ineson), his wife (Kate Dickie) and four of their children when youngest son Samuel suddenly vanishes. The family blames Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the oldest daughter who was watching the boy at the time of his disappearance. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, twin siblings Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) suspect Thomasin of witchcraft, testing the clan’s faith, loyalty and love to one another.
The Horror genre has regressed beyond measure. The world we live in spends countless column inches applauding and welcoming the new brand of shock and awe, leaving so little to the imagination. More blood, more guts, less ambiance, less atmosphere, but there are exceptions. The Witch is the product of first time director Robert Eggers, and is a pure auteurist take on a genre from which true artistry has gone amiss. Mixing together unsettling paranormal themes that slowly eat away at the psyche of the audience, this is not simply a terrifying endeavor to bear, but it’s a very real story. The greatest installments into horror, are stories that span several different genres, with coherent and cohesive themes that push the narrative forward. The Witch does exactly that, all while oozing a sense of internal dread. This is the sort of narrative that will burrow deep inside in the audience’s mind, and nest, slowly unravelling the nerves. It is not enough to just be unnerving, as the film does better enveloping the audience in it’s subtle tension, than any modern horror has or could possibly hope to.
Perhaps what makes The Witch so elementally terrifying, is it’s aptness as a family drama. Foremost, the narrative is driven by the emotion and tension that follows this puritan family as they navigate a new life after being driven from their plantation and exiled from their community. They find themselves nestled into a self made mini farm by a large wooded wilderness whose vastness further adds to the ominous tone. The filmmaker uses this setting, and this family to manipulate the audience and prey on the classic fear of the unknown. The wood is unventured and unearthed by the settlers, it is a point of reference that the children are to steer clear of it. The forest becomes a character, and it’s blackness looms over the film and the family alike, carefully assisting in the abolishment of any ease the viewers may have. Carefully straddling the line between a stylized old english period piece and supernatural folk tale, The Witch provides very real dramatic tension while teasing the threat of something much more sinister.
Eggers, showcases a keen eye in his debut behind the lens. The film is full of truly artistic imagery that eases the terror onto the audience as opposed to hoisting it on them all at once. The constant panning images of the treacherously terrifying billy goat sired “Black Philip” who becomes the relic of true evil s the film progresses and the character descend into madness. There is also the ominous beady eyed rabbit who plays on the sense comfort, and finds a way to make even the simplest of animals appear menacing. The cinematics feel very rigid and cold, assimilating to the period with a grace, as sepia toned grays and blues only add to the horror. There is this murky dreariness, that shadows the film, and eventually makes it very difficult to discern reality from nightmare. Eggers builds a an incredibly terrifying story, but not in the traditional sense. The slow burn ends with a gratifying payoff, but it is the journey that is most profound. The production and design is a marvel. The setting and period is well researched and provides an aesthetically accurate backdrop equipped with the language and the tone. The score is essential in adding to the overlying sense of dread that hovers over the film from start to finish. The entire production from design, editing, and score, to casting and writing, is brilliantly created, and steeped in pure dread.
The casting is perhaps the most scintillating portion of the production. There are no familiar faces, but this only adds to the realism, and lend itself to the drama that unfolds. Ralph Ineson commands attention, bellowing the brilliant dialogue with his coarse voice, he is an earnest patriarch holds an epic presence. Kate Dickie, is perfectly juxtaposed to Ineson. Her role as Katherine helps to drive the suspicion and ratchet up the tension that unravels the family. She is the outwardly emotional counterpoint to the soulfully stoic Ineson. The children are perfectly casted and the roles are extremely well acted. Ana Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw, have a hedonistic chemistry and each portray both the innocence of youth and the hormonal shift and budding sexuality with subtlety, each gracefully navigating their own characters self of self, which lends them to the tonal shift that gradually occurs as the film progresses to climax. The whole cast is illuminates the screen, and brings to life the incredible script.
The Witch is equal parts psychological thriller, horror, and family drama, and it balances all of these themes to perfection. Managing to escape the tropes of modern horror, The Witch is not a new concept, but it is an original revisioning, and incorporates a myriad of genres. The attention to detail and the outstanding visuals meld together flawlessly with the terrifyingly ominous score, leading to an ambiance that revels in it’s tension. Eggers will likely receive some very earned attention, as he was able to create his masterpiece on a shoestring budget. This film is on a different level tonally, and it’s prodigious in its ability to seep into the psyche of it’s audience. The With delivers a striking narrative that explores the depths of madness, and devours the family dynamic with righteous conviction. Eggers brings a delirious and surreal vision, that imbibed the atmosphere and made the film a truly visceral experience. The Witch is much more than just a horror film, from the performances to the production, this is an artistic endeavor unrivalled by most.
4.3/5 EPIC BRO!!