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REVIEW — “The Witch”

The Witch is an original and deeply disturbing horror film.

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The Witch is described as “A New England Folktale.” As such, this film tells the story of a family that dares to leave their Puritan village and pursue their own path. When they settle down near a vast wilderness, tragedies mysteriously occur and each member of the family is pitted against each other. It should be noted that this is not a mainstream horror movie full of jump scares and a cathartic conclusion, a la The Conjuring, Insidous, Paranormal Activity, and Sinister. Rather, this is film focuses on the struggle of each family member to cope with the tragic loss of loved ones and their own sinful nature.

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To make an effective character-driven horror film that is meant to unnerve its audience in every manner possible, the score, screenwriting, and acting have to be top notch. Thankfully, director-writer Robert Eggers’ screenplay provides thorough character development for Thomasin, William, Katherine, and Caleb. For example, Caleb enjoys gazing upon Thomasin’s cleavage. Given that he is not around any other females his age, this is both understandable and creepy. Regardless, Harvey Scrimshaw’s fierce performance makes it believable that Caleb’s lustful nature tears him apart because it violates the belief system he knows and trusts: This makes him, in spite of his shortcomings, more likeable. Katie Dickie and Ralph Ineson portray Katherine and William with enough gravitas to illustrate the love they have for their children and the anguish they suffer as their family is torn apart.

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Convincing the audience of a character’s innocence and cruelty is no easy task, but Anya Taylor-Joy is able to do this impeccably. Without a doubt, the internal struggle within Thomasin keeps this film engaging even when the second most interesting character in the story exits suddenly. Also, the final act simply is not worth watching if Thomasin was not portrayed by an excellent actress: She faces several vital decisions in this portion of the film.

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Even with these strong performances, engaging characters, and excellent screenwriting, the score, cinematography and shot selection must be particularly strong in order to create an oppressive atmosphere. Mark Korven’s score music makes the audience dread each moment in which the witch’s presence is near. In particular, Korven’s score is at its best during the establishing shots of the woods and when the witch confronts any of the main characters. Arguably, the best sequence of the film involves a young boy wandering towards a witch’s house, only to see her in a surprising form. It is the combination of the frantic score music and laborious pacing of the shot selection that make this scene more suspenseful than the rest of the film. Because Korven and Eggers are on the same page, this film has pervasively oppressive setting that haunts the audience long after the credits roll.

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What prevents The Witch from being great is the fact that its tone, atmosphere, and gore make it so that it is difficult to watch and enjoy this film. In other words, in spite of the symbolism, much of which is teased in the posters, being well-developed enough to merit multiple views, this film is too dark and grim to enjoy watching repeatedly. Also, the gruesome violence and graphic nudity in The Witch make it so that no squeamish people can enjoy this film. After all, a naked, deformed witch bathes in the blood of a baby with in the first act of this film. Obviously, this scene sets the tone for how graphic and disturbing the rest of the film is.

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In spite of its flaws, The Witch is an original, effective, and well-made horror film.

Rating: 3.5/5

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