Directed and Written by Robert Eggers
I feel like I can’t come up with the right words to describe this incredible movie, but I’ll try. The lingering atmosphere is executed very well from the beginning, helped along by a combination of a tense score and the use of extended periods of silence. The acting is bang-on and you don’t know when or how it is going to end. The movie doesn’t have ‘twists’ exactly, but the way it is written keeps you guessing constantly. And I personally loved the ending. Though the potential is there to use a more standard approach, The Witch however opts to go down a more subversive avenue. We witness the true nature of religious persecution. Additionally, elements of the story have been taken from historical documents, adding another layer of grimness. The supernatural elements are obviously up for discussion, but that these tales were written centuries ago somehow adds more to this disturbing film.
The film is set in 1630, in New England, America. A Puritan family is banished from town for their beliefs (or it at least seems this way, perhaps based on these events). They are forced to move to a farm that feels like the edge of the world, as from the opening the woods that line the farm are presented in an ominous fashion, almost creating a character that could serve as the scariest element of the film. What exactly goes on in there? Why can’t the children venture inside? Suddenly, without warning, tragedy strikes. The family clings to their faith to prevent them from starving as their crops die, with nothing they can do to prevent it.
The period is an appropriate choice given how humans treated each other centuries ago, and an ideal setting for a horror tale. Some conversations require a little more attention, as the characters speak in ‘ye olde English’ which takes a little getting used to, but it adds another layer of mystery as the family is struck by more inexplicable hardships, causing them to become wary of each other, which in turn leaves them in a increasingly vulnerable state. I can’t say that I was scared, but I do know that I was gripping the armrests pretty hard for most of the film. Hell, they manage to make a scene where a man is hunting a rabbit seem tense and creepy!
Additionally, this is not for inattentive viewers; I could see clock-watching all around me. The incredible camerawork almost reminds me of Paul Thomas Anderson in There Will Be Blood, with many long takes, often slowly panning or zooming in. There is also a focus on facial close-ups reminiscent of Bergman, all of which is a feast to watch on an IMAX screen. The score matches this camerawork almost to perfection, while there is often a lengthy silence between dialogue to contrast the tense music. It also must be mentioned that the child actors really shine, out-doing their older counterparts.
This really is my sort of horror film. No jump-scares, convincing acting and a focus on a dark, foreboding atmosphere rather than the grotesque and bloody. This is another of those films I would label as a psychological thriller, as the supernatural horrors are kept almost completely out of view as we witness the downfall of a family who are all affected, turning on each other as their faith is truly tested.
This film couldn’t have catered to my interests more; I can’t recommend it to everybody, but if you go in with no preconceived notions you’ll be in for a tasty, if not nasty surprise. The suspense is almost unparalleled among recent films, and the ‘horror’ genre conventions are cleverly subverted to deliver a film that is better than It Follows while being completely different. In addition to all this, there is much to take in thematically if you are so inclined… Hell, I’d love to see this again to do just that.
This one is worth a full sixer.
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