The Witch Movie Review
It’s easy to tell why first-time director Robert Eggers delighted and astounded folks at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Eggers has crafted one of the most visually unsettling films of the year. THE WITCH relies heavily on atmosphere, mood, and disturbing imagery to rattle viewers. It’s a movie that will certainly be discussed for years, but not because it’s the most terrifying flick to hit theaters in years, but because of the perverse, grotesque symbolism.
William (Ineson) leads his wife and five children into the great unknown after being booted from their village for ominous disagreements over worship. William settles at an uninhabitable patch of land, right next to the deep, dark woods. The sun rarely shines, if ever, in this movie and that icy grip of uncomfortableness never quite lets go. The tension slowly creeps in as William’s newborn disappears in the care of Thomasin (Taylor-Roy), his eldest child. Thomasin tells the family it’s a wolf that runs off with the baby while the viewer is subjected to a more nefarious reason, a witch.
Adding to the discomforting nature of the movie is William’s youngest kids talking with a black goat on the homestead, livestock that produce blood instead of milk, and extreme close-ups that generally come before cliché jump scares. But none of these moments are played for jump scares. Instead they slowly unravel our nerves, leaving us clutching the arm rests and wondering if the “got ya” moments will happen. The lack of jump scares is a fact I knew going in and I still felt my stomach twist into knots. That’s how effective THE WITCH is.
A majority of the terror comes from the understanding that this family of seven is inherently helpless to the supernatural forces lurking in the woods. It doesn’t help that William is too proud to return to the safety of the village. Instead he blindly believes that God will protect them from the evil stalking and taunting them. Of course, isn’t that a terror in of itself that if there certainly is a Devil, that can do all these horrible things and empower a woman with inhuman abilities, that there isn’t a damn thing God can do to help us?
Most horror movies manage to tap into some contemporary fear or tap into some social theme, but I wonder if THE WITCH really aims for that trope. Just from what I’ve revealed in this review, and what I saw, it seems like the go-to would be a highly religious theme about delusion or the misleading power of one’s own personal doctrine. But THE WITCH manages to do something weird; it consistently contradicts and goes back on the possible themes you witness and devise in your head.
Helping THE WITCH along are veteran British actors, Ralph Ineson and Katie Dickie. Anya Taylor-Roy picks up on their seasoned acting skills, and shocking, so do the other child actors. Eggers has written dialogue that any early American historian teacher would give a perfect grade to. The actors pick up that dialogue, and run with it, speaking in hushed, slurred thick tones as if they had just stepped out of a time machine. Their clothing and surroundings are all straight out of a historic picture book. Eggers would be a fool not to keep the set and clothing designers he found for this movie for any future projects he works on.
The Salem Witch Trials are commonly known as a misguided, violent persecution of women. THE WITCH plays up the religious fear of the Devil and his women of the night, but also seems to poke fun at Christian paranoia of the unknown. THE WITCH wants its cake and eats it too. I’m also willing to understand the possibility that THE WITCH had a very interesting and powerful message, without a clear direction or focus. Regardless of your feelings, it’s guaranteed to be a talker after you leave the theater, for weeks and months.