The Witch (2015) – Horror | Drama
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Ineson
How I Watched: Amazon Instant Video
Best Line: “Wouldst thou like the taste of butter and pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”
As a pretty big fan of supernatural horror movies, I was naturally pretty excited when I saw the first trailer for The Witch. One of the darlings of the Sundance Film Festival, the movie met critics’ adoration the world over, commending the film’s creeping horror and brutal dreadfulness. It hit particular theaters at odd times, so I didn’t get the chance to see it, but took advantage as soon as it started showing on online streaming services.
It’s not too often that a movie can inject dread right into your veins within the first few minutes. Dread is important in horror films and this is something The Witch more than excels at. In fact, I think it’s a perfect exercise in the art of dread, each frame dripping with an unforgiving despair that does not let up until the screen finally goes black. It’s surprisingly ruthless right from the beginning and completely unafraid to show what a lot of horror movies don’t.
I am personally horrified by religious fanaticism. The Witch is set in a 17th century New England, so there is plenty of this right from the beginning. The family in the film blindly follows the Word, Old English being uttered by each character throughout, leaving a very bitter taste in your mouth that grows worse as the story progresses. The plot of land they live on is dirty, unable to grow produce, and completely shrouded in a depressing gray hue that leaves you feeling completely hopeless. If any movie was to ever gloat about its ability to introduce a universe utterly devoid of a heavenly being, it would be The Witch.
In fact, not since Rosemary’s Baby have I been left feeling thoroughly creeped out by a Satanic force. Typically, it seems that directors have a difficult time making witchcraft and/or Satanism frightening. It usually comes across as if they’re trying too hard or even show too much, with a heavily made-up dude in red donning cloven hooves and a tail. The Witch though, without giving away too much, succeeds with terribly evil flying colors at making witchcraft downright horrible. It’s couch-clutchingly vicious at times and even momentarily bordering on the unbearable.
Another facet of the film that really helped me get into it was the setting. I grew up nowhere near New England, but the farm I grew up on in the Inland Northwest looks eerily similar to the one featured in the film. My childhood home has an open valley expanse meeting a dark treeline on all sides and in the winter, mornings and sunset strike an uncanny resemblance to The Witch‘s moody gray-soaked cinematography. My father kindly told us witches lived in the woods, seeking children in the night, so you can probably imagine how much I identified with this film (Thanks, Dad).
My one complaint about the movie is probably a silly one to some people. I mentioned previously that the film’s dialogue is drenched in Old English, and while I find it to be strategically a good move in authenticating the storyline, it’s next to impossible to understand some of the whispered conversations without switching on subtitles. I am not one to complain about subtitles, but the film is not meant to have them, so it was a bit annoying to turn them on (me being a film snob that likes to see movies as they are meant to be seen).
Really though, The Witch is a damn great movie. It’s hard to call it a horror film, as really, it’s more of a suspenseful thought-piece on religion with some unbearably tense scenes peppered throughout. I’m excited to see where first-time director Eggers goes with his career. The acting is convincing enough, even with the translation issues coming through the speakers. If you really get into it though, with the lights off and the sound cranked up, The Witch will intravenously creep right in and stay with you the next time you’re out in those dark, moonlit woods.
Final Score: 3.5/4
Similar Films: Rosemary’s Baby, The Blair Witch Project, There Will Be Blood