Right from the get go, lets get things out into the open. If you are one of those people who think true horror should be one of those movies that scare you with a loud noise every three minutes and then launches a red herring of a jumping cat or a pranking boyfriend every OTHER three minutes, The Witch (or The VVitch, if you believe the font on the poster) is not the movie for you.
If, however you are blessed with patience, an affinity for strong characterization and a strong, supernatural desire for a horror movie rich in metaphor and that exercises a creepy slow burn, a thought provoking story, disturbing visuals and an ending that will crawl under your scalp and haunt you for days, step right up.
Thomasin, a young girl who has come of age in the harshness of the 1630’s, has a sparse existence. Her puritan family has been ostracized from the local community for a religious dispute and has set up a farm on the edge of an oppressive wood where it turns out it’s tough to grow virtually anything. Worse yet, as Thomasin blossoms into womanhood, a wedge of jealousy and bitterness is growing between the various family members which causes resentments to bubble barely under the surface. Her mother is envious of her youth and beauty and is convinced that her husband (played by Finchy from The Office) is thinking ungodly thoughts about his own daughter and the squabbles between the various children are getting more and more spiteful. The tipping point comes when Saumel, the new born baby of the the clan vanishes while under Thomasin’s care (literally from under her nose) and a careless comment to her brattish sister leads suspicion to grow like a cancer within the rapidly crumbling family unit.
Is there really a malevolent baby snatching witch lurking in the woods who has her eye locked on the children or is Thomasin herself responsible for the unthinkable act? As paranoia spirals out of control, another of the brood go missing and the other children start confiding in “Black Phillip” the family goat, murderous urges and rampant insanity rise unchecked leading to a finale drenched in equal amounts blood and evil…
The Witch is the directorial debut of Robert Eggers and is a quiet, stunningly effective little screw tightener that served (alongside 2014’s The Babadook) as one of the heralds of the wave of “introspective horror” that washed over the genre over the last five years. Unfortunately it also kicked off the “is it scary or is it boring” debate that enveloped almost every hyped release since and it’s a rant I’ve heard way too many times since and it never fails to annoy. Too many times during my life have I heard people accuse a fantastic, legitimate scary movie as being “crap” simply because they don’t have the patience to see that a good story (even a slow one) and sympathetic characters makes the movie all the more terrifying and all because they’ve had a few before going to the cinema…
Now don’t get me wrong, if well made a good jump scare movie goes down a treat, but I’ll take a lingering sense of dread that perseveres long after the credits have rolled over rapid fire loud noices shock any day.
This is haunting cinema, with it’s barely seen antagonist invoking panicked “what the fuck is that” outbursts in the brain proving once and for all that bollock naked, evil, cackling old ladies are not just fucking scary but quite possibly one of the most genuinely unnerving visuals you can flicker in front of my traumatised eyeballs, period. That being said, this is also a film where someone tries to breast feed a hungry crow which ends as about as well as you’d expect – so expect to be unsettled.
The excruciating slow burn that drives the feeling of dread deep within the marrow of your bones is eventually rewarded in The Witch’s magnificent, super-bleak ending which honestly creates a totally original feeling of viewing something that shouldn’t be watched. Where other films of it’s kind would end on a cliffhanger or a question – The Witch keeps going for 10 more minutes which makes you feel like you’ve somehow spun clean off the end of the movie and are accidentally witnessing something forbidden and not to be seen by normal eyes. Creepy too are the animals in this film. Both Black Philip, an unnerving bastard of a goat and a reoccurring gawking rabbit in the woods exude the same, still, ominous nature of the huskie from The Thing. You won’t believe that a perfectly still bunny flicking you the evils will get under your skin so much.
The cast is fantastic and Anya Taylor-Joy especially is a revelation in a hugely complicated role that led to more and more interesting roles in the genre and the direction by first timer Robert Eggers makes him definitely one to watch. In fact his sophomore effort, The Lighthouse is mere days away from release at time of writing and I’m curious to see if his particular brand of horror continues to endure.
Like I said (quite extensively) before, this isn’t be for everyone, but as a creeping, hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-standing-up sorta fare, it’s a tough spell to beat.