Terrifying. Impending. Ominous.
These are just a few of the adjectives that were going through my head stepping out of the theater after viewing The Witch. This New England folktale follows a 17th century Puritan family excommunicated from a plantation by their church. After a few days travel the ousted family lay claim to a piece of open land just beside a forest. Months pass by, and with their farm fully built and functioning, we see them settling down having welcomed a newborn, their fifth child.
And then something unthinkable happens… and it’s weird… and it’s confusing… and it’s great.
First time writer/director Robert Eggers brilliantly takes the helm, crafting the film to make the audience feel as if they are in the New England frontier; not knowing whether the supernatural tries to consume them, or the harshness and isolationism of the wild is the culprit. A film rife with religion, it showcases how a deeply devout mindset might be during the era, and how the psyche reacts when all goes wrong.
The Witch‘s pacing is arduous, yet deliberate. It feels akin to a time-bomb ticking away. You hear the sound, and you know it’s going to detonate, but you just don’t know when. It’s exciting. It’s tenuous. You want it to happen, but yet you find yourself routing for these characters and their safety.
The performances are electric and anchor the film in its undoubted reality. The characters jump off the screen with personality. Within the first few lines of dialogue from each character, you know who they are. Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Thomasin the eldest daughter, delivers an imaginable performance exhibiting the rigors of being a woman entering adulthood during these times, but also providing a strong feminist skew (which coincidentally conjures up more accusations and trouble for herself). Yet, perhaps my favorite performance comes from Ralph Ineson, who plays William, the father. His steadfastness and pride oozes through every line of classically-spoken English; his only goal to provide for his family. He commonly attempts to hold the family together when the tragedies of The Witch befalls, and prays to his almighty god for understanding and justice throughout.
Highlighting the music of the film; Mark Korven, the composer, treats the score as a character onto it’s own. It pushes it’s haunting strings leaving you uneasy, while concurrently the scene shows a different numbing visual. Intentional of course; it’s effect all alludes to the viewer that things are only going to get worse. Something more dreadful is coming.
And what does this foreshadowing lead to? An unabashed break-necked paced finale that will leave you jaw-dropped and wanting more.
The horror genre has seen a resurgence in the last few years thanks to the likes of The Conjuring, It Follows, and Babadook; but The Witch does it differently. While pacing might be a critique to some, or a washed out color palette (two attributes I actually love), The Witch is refreshing and bold; a welcome sight. I can only hope it sticks with you like it did with me.