An Old Folk Tale For A New Age
“The Witch” is a difficult movie to pin down. On one hand this is certainly a horror movie but it doesn’t play on the typical horror movie conventions. I would almost say some horror fan won’t enjoy this because it’s not your typical horror film. Stephan King’s analysis of the film was spot on, “it’s a real movie”. This isn’t a slight on a typical horror film but “The Witch” isn’t concerned with playing to that audience nor is it satisfied with playing it safe with its story. This movie isn’t just out to scare you, it’s a period piece that is rich authenticity and aims to bring out thought provoking reflection. “The Witch” nearly succeeds on all those merits. It’s hard to say for sure what exact type of film this is but perhaps that speaks to uniqueness to this picture.
Taking place just 62 years before the Salem Witch Trials, “The Witch” takes place in the back woods of New England. A family trying to harvest crop before the winter sets begins to be torn apart by a witch that lives out in the woods. “The Witch” is more about the family drama and hysteria than it’s horror. This might put off some but I think some of the best horror movies shift its focus away from just horror and onto other elements. “The Exorcist” is about more than just possession which helps the movie become one of, if not, the greatest horror film ever made. It’s the same reason why people love comic book movies like “The Dark Knight”. Because, it’s about more than just being a superhero movie. That’s the best analogy that I can give to what “The Witch” is to the horror genre. I mean that in the best possible way.
However I don’t want to give you the impression this movie isn’t scary because first time director Robert Eggers creates a movie that is absolutely filled with tension. This movie doesn’t rely on jump scares. I kept sitting in the theater waiting with anticipation for that tension bursting jump scare, but it never came. Instead all that anxiety I felt waiting for the jump scare was left with me for the remainder of the movie. Payoff rarely comes and in that sense you’re left with that unsettling feeling; even when you leave the theater. This is set in the backwoods of 17th century New England. The nearest village is about a day away and the family is surrounded by this very thick wood. There never feels like there is “a safe” place to be. Eggers does a brilliant job to make the family feel isolated.
This is all due to Roger Eggers brilliant direction. This is a debut for the young writer/director and what a debut this is. Eggers shows the maturity of a veteran filmmaker in nearly every frame of the film. The movie has a very somber and dreary look. One might argue a little too dreary but I would personally disagree, it fits with the nature of the story. Egger deliberately paces this movie quite slowly; this is a slow burn. However it very great drags.
Eggers also shows great attention to his screenplay. This entire film is written in Old English; the type of English spoken by people of that time. It sounds very Shakespearian, but I never felt like it was overbearing . Nor did I get to the point where I couldn’t understand what the characters were talking about. It felt very real and authentic. It’s not gimmicky, it’s a vital piece to getting the audience sucked back into that world. This small horror movie gets the authenticity of the time period better than most historical epics do.
The cast of this movie is kept small but all the actors are effect. These aren’t easy roles for just any actor to come in and pull off. Eggers casts a group of smaller but extremely talented actors. “Game of Thrones” actors Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie both help carry the movie and elevate the younger child actors that are impressive onto themselves. Newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy has a breakout role here. If this girl doesn’t end up on casting directors list in Hollywood then a great injustice is being done. Anya is that good here.
When this film finished (after a terrifying final 20 minutes) I thought…huh that was interesting. But, the more I think about it, the more I love this movie. There is a lot of layers and symbolism to unravel and analyze. The ending leaves more questions than answers. This movie disturbed me in a similar fashion to “The Babadook”. I think even if you’re not a horror fan this is still worth checking out because there is more here than just horror. When I watched M Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” this is more along the lines of the movie I was hoping for. This is just another strong film to be released in the young year of 2016.