This unsettling settler saga uses early-American folklore to tap into your psyche’s dark corners, behind the Grimm fairy tale section, where things like evil goats, eerie twins and a primal fear of the forest live. Even if you’ve never consciously thought about these iconic and disturbing images, they’re all up in there whether you like it or not.
If you are like me then 17th century Puritans and Pilgrims already make you a little uneasy (maybe it’s the big weird hats), but when you toss a few demonic elements into a story about these early American colonists they definitely get creepy. It’s these ingredients that make The Witch a particularly disturbing brew.
The story is simple enough: A Christian family leaves the safety of its 1630’s village because its citizens are not puritan enough to fit the father’s fundamentalist tastes. They move to the edge of a dark and thick forest and build a home and farm, but they soon find that their strong belief in God is not enough to protect them from the evil in the woods.
The outcast family consists of the patriarch, William (Ralph Ineson), his wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), teenage daughter and son, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), strange young twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), and a newborn baby.
After the toddler mysteriously disappears, the seemingly wholesome family unit begins to unravel and disintegrate into paranoia, fostered by accusations of witchcraft – and an exceptionally demonic looking goat named Black Phillip doesn’t help matters.
A minor complaint about this movie is its use of the Shakespearean like parlance of the 1600s, the era in which the movie is set. Although it is extremely authentic, it was very hard to follow and I felt like I was missing a lot of what was being said. You get the gist of the dialogue, but I would have been happier capturing it all.
The acting all around is first rate with Anya Taylor-Joy turning in an especially mesmerizing performance as the young woman accused of being a witch by her own family. Also of note is some incredible cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, who makes the wilderness on the edge of the family’s farm look truly malevolent.
Even though this is writer/director Robert Eggers first feature effort, he convincingly makes an otherwise cute little bunny-rabbit appear to be the epitome of evil; so in my book he’s successfully earned his horror movie wings with his frightfully good film.
My biggest problem with this movie is that they actually show ‘the witch’ early on in the story, which is fine, in that that is how Eggers chose to tell his story, but I would have likes to seen even more of a psychological drama, leaving the audience guessing at where the true evil was stemming from. Nevertheless, this is still a top-notch horror film.
Allegedly, The Witch has garnered an endorsement by “The Satanic Temple,” which has supposedly sponsored guest screenings of the movie. I can’t say that having Satanists tout your film is necessarily a good thing (most would say it’s not), but I can easily see where this movie might appeal to that fringe element. You’re not going to leave this film with a warm fuzzy feeling – unless it’s that damn goat rubbing up against you – but in the church of fine filmmaking, this is one worth praising. Grade: 8/10
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