Written by: Lois Kennedy
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw
In colonial New England, a family is banished from their town and church. The seven of them (two parents, five kids) move to the woods and build a new living space, but their crops fail and they have difficulty sustaining a living. On top of that, the youngest child disappears, one is “witched,” and the family begins to fall apart.
First and foremost, the horror is subtle initially. The filmmakers do an excellent job of building psychological tension with the family’s struggle to conquer both the nature outside of them (growing crops that rot, milking a goat that starts bleeding instead) and their inner natures. An early scene shows their mindset and the level of repression they all live with, when teenage daughter Thomasin prays; she begs forgiveness for playing during the Sabbath and declares how she deserves to suffer more. Sound is used effectively; jump scares aren’t utilized often, but when they are they’re often accompanied by loud, unsettling noises. The score is also strange and off-putting. Eventually there are scary scenes—real doozies, believe me—that will please fans of more conventional horror, if they stick around.
The problem is getting people to stick around. “The Witch” won’t resonate with anyone who is only expecting a mainstream horror movie. I saw people walk out of the theatre during the movie, and heard others complain that it was slow and even stupid. The actors’ English accents take some getting used to, and the movie starts rather abruptly—I had some trouble following the action at first. The tone is very somber. There’s zero comic relief, and the film is dark both figuratively and literally. Finally the actors, while they are quite competent—even the little ones—are not Hollywood-looking types.
Overall, the movie is strange and wonderful and eerie and thoughtful. I heard even Stephen King said it was scary. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something serious that will stay with you.
Lois Kennedy is an avid horror fan who also loves to write. She can also be found on Facebook, YouTube, WordPress, and Horrornovelreviews.