The new horror renaissance is one of the best things to happen to cinema in quite some time. Films like It Follows, The Babadook, Oculus, among others have revived the genre from its mid 2000’s death after its acceptance of direct to DVD outings for series like Hellraiser and Halloween. What the new generation of horror seems to understand is to use it in a way that services the story. Away from the torture porn of Eli Roth and Saw, the genre has accepted stories of people experiencing various forms of terror that doesn’t even necessarily need the actual villain of the movie to create the problem within the lives of these people, but escalate it. And The Witch (or The VVitch, if you’re so inclined to use like the marketing does) is no exception to that set of films. Everything serves a purpose and the terror comes from not just a witch, but the family that it centers around.
Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Thomasin, the oldest child to her parents, William and Katherine (Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, both of Game of Thrones fame). After their banishment from their previous town, the family moves to a far part of land away from the town and beside a menacing forest. With the family all by themselves far away from civilization, Thomasin and her siblings including, Caleb, a preteen with burgeoning sexuality and her twin brother and sister, Jonas and Mercy, must find out how to navigate the problems with their family as well as the disappearance of the baby Samuel, who was taken under the watch of Thomasin.
Now if you weren’t to know the title of the movie and I was just to describe the plot to you, it wouldn’t exactly sound like a horror film. In fact, it would sound like a family drama filled with existential dread and themes about guilt and blame. And you wouldn’t be wrong with saying that’s what this movie is about, because it is. The Witch is a bold, shocking film that happens to use a horror staple as its inciting incident and physically manifests itself as the devastation of this family. Now it may seem like I have just spelled the movie out for you, but I don’t think I have.
A horror film can expand on a story and use these horrific moments as a way to set a mood. This movie has mood and dread in spades. Any portion with the witch is filled with darkness and threat to the family in the small portions that you see her in. From the ominous string heavy score from Mark Korven to the brilliant cinematography by Jarin Blaschke (using the mostly disposed of 1:66:1 aspect ratio), The Witch uses the basic tropes of that titled villain and makes it into something more terrifying than we would originally think. If there is any doubt in your mind that this movie would be filled with jump scares, you’d be dead wrong. All this film needs is the environment it brings.
Regular audiences may find the slow-burn of The Witch to kill whatever hopes of being scared out the window. The Witch doesn’t feature incredibly graphic murders or cheesy character motivations that would make you roll your eyes. Writer/Director Robert Eggers never wants to treat the audience like idiots and expects that same audience to pick up on cues within the dialogue to understand where it’s headed and why the movie is doing what it is doing. Like an old folk-tale, every moment has a purpose and at a tight 93 minutes, it almost feels like you’ve been ripped off when the film comes to its climax. The ending is incredibly abrupt and is mildly unsatisfying, but it ends at the perfect moment for the story it wants to tell.
If you’re looking for the atmospheric horror that was present in Rosemary’s Baby or The Wicker Man (The original version with Christopher Lee from 1973, not the abysmal Nicolas Cage edition), than The Witch will be the new horror movie for you. It’s also a poetic look at family dissolution that wouldn’t be too far-fetched in an Ingmar Bergman film. Robert Eggers is a director to look out for. The Witch is not to be missed.
- The atmosphere is palpable and potent
- Anya Taylor-Joy does a solid job with her leading performance
- The rest of the cast is damn good as well
- Robert Eggers direction is pitch perfect with little to no fat left on the film
- The score and cinematography are some of the best this year
- The ending feels anticlimactic and unsatisfying