The Witch, 2015.
Written and Directed by Robert Eggers.
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson and Julian Richings.
A family in 1630’s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
In the forest, no-one can hear you scream. Except for the horrid witches lurking in amongst the darkened trees and muddy terrain as they wait patiently before pouncing on you in the most unsuspecting ways. Witches, whether flying broomsticks in Oz, hiding in plain sight on the hunt for smelly children or the more vile incarnations, have frightened many for generations, but none have managed to capture their true, unyielding terror than in writer – director Robert Eggers’ debut The Witch (or The VVitch as it’s known), this year’s most unforgettable horror film.
To say The Witch will stay with you long after the final credits have rolled away and the last cue of music has faded away is a serious understatement. It will be days, weeks, maybe even months before you shake this one from the recesses of your mind such is the terror that lurks within the 90-minutes of its unyielding power to torment and unease. Modern horror is at its apex in 21st century cinema, with all facets, stories and budgets catering for every taste but when one comes along with such potency, such unrelenting force that it stands out above all others. Riding a huge wave of acclaim and plaudits from last year’s Sundance Film Festival, we have had to wait a long time to fall under The Witch’s charm, but it was well worth it.
As with many witch stories, we head back to a time before time, namely the 1630’s and colonial New England. Expelled from their home after accusing their superiors of practising false faiths and beliefs in God, they retreat to a small farm aside a gloomy forest where they are soon faced with the disappearance of their baby Sam. A wolf is their first instinct but as father William (Ralph Ineson) begins to investigate it becomes clear that darker forces are at play here, pushing the family to the brink of destruction as their faith is tested to breaking point by supernatural forces, infighting and Black Philip (the less said, the better).
Eggers debut is meticulous in both its detail and its set-up. There are those blood-soaked moments for this looking for something a little gorier in their Saturday night horror, but it’s just part of a superb orchestrated piece of chilling cinema. More akin to some of cinema’s true terrors (The Exorcist, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby), The Witch moves slowly through its quite taut runtime but never loses its power to get right under your skin. There is a wriggly, uneasy fear throughout the film that cranks slowly, smothering and strangling your senses as the young family begins to splinter and crack under their weight of the forces around them and the fear of their faith, their true calling, crumbling away as evil overpowers good.
Finding Anya Taylor-Joy only elevates the film further as the young actress dazzles as eldest daughter Thomasin, the story seen through her scared eyes as she desperately tries to keep her family from tearing itself apart through fear. Ineson and Kate Dickie too are superb throughout as the husband and wife clinging to hope, whilst the work of DoP Jarin Blaschke and musician Mark Korven are just part of the magnificent design of the film. If the events on screen don’t nestle under your skin and start crawling around, then Blaschke’s score and piercing sound design will do just that.
Forget any other horror film that has come before it (or indeed proceeds it) as The Witch has them all beat. Tense, thought-provoking, chilling, unequivocally scary with magnificent performances and atmosphere, Robert Eggers’ debut is a triumph on every level, easily the best horror film of the last 10 years and then some. A stunning, staggering achievement.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Scott J. Davis is a Senior Writer at Flickering Myth and co-host and editor of The Flickering Myth Review Podcast. Follow him on Twitter.