Movie Review: Witchcraft in The Witch never looked this beautiful
Director: Robert Eggers
Writers: Robert Eggers
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw
Synopsis: A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
There is an evil lurking behind the shadows in The Witch; here’s a hint, it’s not a witch. Unless Robert Eggers, with his sinister quality behind the camera, can now be considered one. The Witch is a modern horror movie that is less concerned with physical witchcraft, regardless of what the film’s title suggests. This makes for an overall satisfying addition to the modern resurgence of horror filmmaking.
The Witch takes place in 1630s New England, focusing on the “banishment” of a Puritan family from their plantation due to a disagreement in beliefs. The family finds a spot to reside and farm in the wooded outskirts, where an entity beyond comprehension may be lurking in the trees. The horror ensues after the disappearance of the family’s infant son, and what instantly happens next will simply make your stomach turn and skin curl. As the horror continues, this good-natured family becomes engulfed in sin, paranoia, and religious fanaticism. And it’s fantastic.
As already alluded to above, the real star of the film is Robert Eggers. As a first time writer and director, it is astounding to see such craft in producing a film that is both a glorious exercise in fresh horror techniques, and an authentic period piece. Eggers builds tension not necessarily slowly, but calmly and cautiously; he waits and lets the film’s ideas gradually carry the story and its characters, only to then raise the hairs on your neck when you least expect it, and in a big way. Eggers’ research of the time period and the language is also uncanny; his writing as a representation of 17th Century New England is perfection in its authenticity, whereas the stark cinematography and art direction continues to complement that authenticity even further. If there’s one thing a great horror film needs to succeed, that’s authenticity.
This beautifully translates to the film’s dense and diverse collection of themes. The Witch uses history to paint a portrait of the paranoia of early witchcraft, in a time prior to the Salem Witch Trials, and how that paranoia leads to a family’s destruction. It focuses on the developing evil of this time, and the repercussions of hiding from that danger instead of recognizing its existence. Eggers drives this even further using religious faith and fanaticism, God vs. Satan, and most importantly the repercussions of sin, specifically pride, lies, and even impure sexuality. This ultimately breaks a good-hearted family down, leading them down a path of accusations and madness.
The Witch has been aesthetically compared to that of The Shining and The Crucible, and it is easy to see why. But that fails to give enough credit where credit is due; Eggers has a unique direction style, and it translates here. And the film has this drama that is sorely missing in most modern horror, even further emulated by the film’s incredible performances, most notably Anya Taylor-Joy and young Harvey Scrimshaw. The Witch may initially lack a real emotional resonance at first, and it may introduce these characters a bit suddenly, but this allows the film’s setting and time period to take charge, and it takes a really talented director to use those aesthetics to enhance a film’s drama, but that’s exactly what Eggers does. He also makes a goat scary, a reason alone to see this movie. The Witch may be too abstract for some, but in its execution it has the chance of standing the test of time, a true characteristic of a horror classic.