The Witch, 2016.
Written and Directed by Robert Eggers.
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, and Lucas Dawson.
A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
With “jump scare” horror dominating our screens, The Witch is a refreshingly chilling and simply told horror story that is genuinely unnerving throughout.
The film opens with William (Ineson) and his family leaving a plantation and setting up their own small farm on the outskirts of a wood. It’s a solitary life and Eggers long wide shots make the small house and barn feel miniscule against the landscape. Everything seems perfectly normal until teen Thomasin (Taylor-Joy) is looking after her baby brother and he is seemingly snatched right before her eyes. Subtlety is Eggers power in this film and it is all the more frightening for it. The audience then see the witch that is planning on terrorising the family. Naked and mutilated we don’t see her face just glimpses of her back and straggly figure emerging from the dark. It’s unsettling and engrossing to watch.
What follows is a slow burning horror film as the fear and accusations in the family reach fever pitch. Whilst the dialogue won’t be easily accessible for every viewer, it cements the film in its time period and makes the accusations of witchcraft and the devil more plausible. The four leads are excellent throughout and Ralph Ineson who is usually relegated to smaller parts gets a chance to take centre stage to great effect. That being said; the true talent finds are Anya Taylor-Joy as the conflicted teen Thomasin and Harvey Scimshaw as Caleb. A lot of the tension and drama rests on the shoulders of these two young actors. A particular scene with Scrimshaw alone in the woods holding his father’s rifle is beautifully shot to juxtapose the innocence of his youth and his emergence as a man. Once again Eggers uses wide shots with few edits to heighten the tension as the witch emerges.
Sexual awakening seems to be the theme of the film and the fact that it’s based on old folklore legends makes this even more likely. Thomasin is beginning to develop as a woman, Caleb is becoming curious about women and as these events progress the evil takes hold.
The Witch is a near perfect horror film. It’s score is chilling and maintains the sense of dread throughout the whole film, it’s beautifully filmed and as with many of the great horror films it is what we don’t see that makes the fear more intense. Where The Witch struggles at times is in its pacing. Some of the conversations between William and his wife Katherine (Dickie) feel overwritten and in turn we lose some of the tension that has been built up so well throughout. The two twin children are only brought out when the plot calls for it and don’t get much to do it.
Nevertheless The Witch is a phenomenally engrossing horror film that you’ll keep thinking about after you’ve left the theatre.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Helen Murdoch is a freelance writer – Follow me on Twitter