The Witch 2016 Review
The Witch Movie Review 2016
Stillness is often the most frightening action observed in cinema. The intimacy of observing another human being is a perverse thrill every moviegoer delights in, whether they want to admit it or not. A good horror movie fill this quota particularly well, forcing viewers to connect with a character right before they’re chopped to bits, possessed, or whatever else can be done within the parameters of a blood-soaked genre. Every once in a while, however, there’s a film like The Witch. Delivered through the guise of a New England folk tale, it is the rare cinematic experience that pushes stillness to startling new heights.
From the very first fade-in, an unsettled air of dread is practically palpable. A Puritan family is banished from their village, forced to gather their things and head for the woods. Little is said, though the defeat is most certainly felt as they wagon away from a static long shot. Songs of hope are overpowered by the wailing choruses that follow, and a fate similar to Adam and Eve feels eerily inevitable. “We will conquer this wilderness!” so says patriarch William (Ralph Ineson), while building their new home. But neither he, his wife (Kate Dickie), nor his four children are prepared for what these cursed woods have to offer.
Scripted by rookie director Robert Eggers, The Witch does away with any preconceived notions of when a scary movie is “supposed” to become scary, instead opting for infant atrocities nearly ten minutes into its runtime. As a result, paranoia typically reserved for the final act is retailored to fit a family rapidly descending into madness. Glimpses of The Witch arrive only when obscured by the black of night, but the daunting light of daytime are reserved for equally heinous activities. Whether that of eldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) and his pubescent feelings towards sister Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), or the paganized playtime of their younger twin siblings (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson), the film dares to venture into themes as vacantly ominous as its setting.
This idea of Godlessness, or lack of faith, is where The Witch really separates itself from the competition. Moments of startling violence, be they from vomited apples or spurting buckets of blood, feel like old testament reactions to impure lifestyles. Bypassing the Catholic cheapening that so many scary movies partake in, Eggers subverts a world where the witch is less an evil force and more a manipulator of souls – a snake, urging Eve to grasp the apple. Caleb’s cabin seduction and subsequent bewitching arrive as knee jerk reactions to his hormonal flaws, while mother Katherine’s lack of religious acumen actually comes back to bite her. Or peck her, more tellingly. That the family eventually devolves into it’s only little Salem Witch Trial (decades before the real thing) is where ungodly heights are truly scaled – tapping into hysteria previously reserved for masterpieces like The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976).
By the time the final fixated images flicker out of the frame, it’s obvious that Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke have created a singular viewing experience. Finding visual evil in the most benign of settings, from barnyard crevices to a chopping block that comes to pass as a recurring teaser of violence, the film is an unbridled success. In terms of sheer visual odyssey, this thing has enough density to make even Stanley Kubrick’s sullen eyes widen with wonderment. It doesn’t hurt that Eggers was a production designer in a past life, only adding more layers of period authenticity to the proceedings.
As for the inexplicable talent in the director’s chair, one may have to look towards potential pacts with the Devil himself. Eggers expresses his plight with such unflinching assurance that even when horrific deeds have been done, a magnetic sense of storytelling pull us back for more. Debuts this fully formed don’t often appear, but, to be fair, neither do films that live up to the horror movie hype. The stillness of this sinful descent will be felt for a very, very long time.