Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson & Kate Dickie
Synopsis: A family in 1630’s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
Rating: 15 Duration: 93 minutes Release date: 11 March (UK)
In modern horror, one would be fairly safe in presuming there aren’t enough films about witches. Currently zombies, vampires and demons rule the box office, but when was the last time you saw a really good film about witches? A quick google search would set you back a few years at least and the most memorable film would most likely be The Blair Witch Project. So what is to be made of first time director Robert Eggers’ The Witch?
In 17th century New England, a devout Christian family are exiled from their village, faced with the difficult task of having to survive on their own in the harsh American landscape. Eventually finding a location on the edge of a forest, the family slowly turn the land into an hospitable terrain and now have a farm and house to call their own. They also have a new child on the way to compliment the three children they already have.
Their solitude is soon disrupted however, when Samuel, the new born, is taken from them under the not so watchful eye of Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). The mystery lies in who or what, took the boy.
The appeal of The Witch lies not only in what you see, but what you don’t see. Director Robert Eggers has crafted a horror film that is, for the most part, entirely suggestive. It’s an approach that fits The Witch perfectly and creates an air around the film that is as visceral as it is psychological and will leave audiences feeling genuinely distressed after viewing it. It’s a risky approach in modern horror, especially when you consider the recent trend in supernatural scares from the likes of The Conjuring, Insidious and Paranormal Activity.
To go in the other direction and allow audiences to imagine what’s happening, rather than have it thrust upon them has reportedly not sat well with some audiences who are complaining that The Witch is not scary enough. To say that though, is to miss the point. While The Witch does not have you jumping out of your seat, it does create a mental scarring that is sincerely unpleasant and stays with you long after leaving the cinema.
What we have here is a film similar in tone and approach to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist. Both films were ambitious in their own right, and both had a profound effect on audiences. With its growing sense of tension and a foreboding atmosphere, the sense of dread is apparent from the start of the film and the it never leaves you in any doubt that something terrible is going to consume this unfortunate family.
What The Witch also does well is blend horror with fairytale. The Witch not only intends to frighten, but also play on the old tales of witches and witchcraft, while presenting a very authentic look at life in the 1600’s. From the struggle to adapt to America’s new found land to the deep rooted problems of living in a Christian family, when witches were as artificial as they were terrifying.
As a whole, The Witch simply will not please everyone, its critic/audience split has already been reported elsewhere. But what it lacks in jump type scares, it makes up for in an undesirable amount of tension that leaves you in a vastly different emotional state than when you entered the cinema.