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Witch, The

Review by: 
Suicide Blonde
Release Date: 
2016
Studio: 
A24
Genre: 
Horror
Format: 
Theatrical
Region: 
N/A
Aspect Ratio: 
N/A
Directed by: 
Robert Eggers
Cast: 
Anya Taylor-Joy
Kate Dickie
Ralph Ineson
Harvey Scrimshaw
Movie: 
5
Extras: 
0
Bottom Line: 
5

The year is 1630 and the place is somewhere in New England; a Puritan family that’s been exiled from its community is trying to make a solo go of it. William, the father (Ralph Ineson), insists on staying on their homestead even though the harvest is failing and the traps he sets come up empty. Mother Catherine (Kate Dickie) is unhinged with grief after the family’s infant son vanishes without a trace; there also seems to be a great deal of below-the-surface conflict between Catherine and oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), whose faith in the family’s religious tenets seems shaky and who clearly resents her bratty, undisciplined younger siblings. And son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is dealing with the conflict between religion and sexuality.

The family’s life is one of unremitting labor, constant dread of God’s wrath, and no creature comforts. But their troubles may have a supernatural source as well…

Director Robert Eggers’s debut, The Witch, is a true gem for horror aficionados. It dispenses with the reliance on gimmicks, jump scares, irony, and special effects that have plagued the genre lately, focusing instead on the dread that comes from both inside and outside and that breaks apart the family. Eggers also immerses the audience in the movie’s world, paying particular attention not just to the costuming and setting but to the dialogue (much of which is taken from diaries of the time period) and the actors (all excellent, and none of them feeling like dirtied-up Hollywood people). The only downside is that occasionally the dialogue is difficult to understand.

Eggers has the supernatural threats, temptations, and attacks follow superstitions of the time as well, while at the same time layering in just enough ambiguity so that a modern audience isn’t always sure what’s real and what isn’t.

The Witch is a remarkable-looking and –sounding film as well. Shot with natural/ambient light in a part of New England where it’s seemingly always overcast, the movie captures both the hostility of the natural environment and the dreary, pleasureless existence of the family. The score by Mark Korven does a fine job of setting the mood of creeping dread, and punctuating the scares rather than telling the audience the scares are coming.

Kudos go to all the actors, whose performances are key to selling the horrors of such a film. Of especial note are Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw, both of whom give some of the better performances I’ve seen from teens, especially given the period dialogue and accents. Taylor-Joy and Scrimshaw capture the conflicts of being teens in such a restrictive society, their need for survival and their dread of God’s judgment being at odds with yearning for independence and for the simple pleasures of food and warmth and the more complex pleasures of human sexuality.

It’s a refreshing, disturbing film that’s a true breath of fresh air for the genre. 

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