THE WITCH (2016)
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The Witch is an atmospheric folk tale from writer/director Robert Eggers that is consistently moody and has some very spooky sequences, but far from lives up to all the hype that’s been made about it at film festivals. Story finds a Puritan family leaving their village to live out in the wilderness in a clearing before a dense wood. When daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) takes her infant brother for a walk, he disappears basically right in front of her. We all know who and what is the cause of his disappearance, but dissension starts to eat away at the family as the father feels it has to do with their earthly sins and the other children claim Thomasin is a witch and gave the child to the Devil. As more tragedy befalls the family, paranoia begins to tear them apart as they believe something evil is in their midst.
Eggers tells his tale more like an old-style New England folktale than a more traditional horror and the end credits explain that this is fully the intent. He creates a steady atmosphere of uneasiness and the film certainly has the feel of it’s time when religion and superstition were believed in equally. There are some truly spooky sequences, especially in the last act, but there were also times where the slow paced film was a bit tedious as the lamentations of the mother and father get repetitious and fingers start getting pointed at various family members by the others. Kinda like a Puritan era version of John Carpenter’s The Thing but, it doesn’t quite have the tension of that classic. This is because we know from early on that there is a witch and it’s not in the house, as Eggers has shown her to us when she takes the infant and then another child. There is purpose, though to her dividing the family and as the film enters the last act it becomes apparent and then the film really locks in the chills till it’s not totally unexpected final sequence. The dialog is also spoken in the language of the time and while it adds to the atmosphere, it also is hard to understand the characters meaning at times, not being familiar with the vernacular of the period. On a production side, Eggers does have a visual style that suits his unnerving tale and it is photographed well by Jarin Blaschke and given a really creepy score by Mark Korven. There is also some graphic bloodshed and some disturbing imagery that do help with the ambiance of dread, as well. This is a spooky flick, but just not consistently and not as intensely as certain famous author quotes would like us to believe.
The cast are all convincing. Taylor-Joy plays a young Puritan woman coming of age, very well. Her awakening sexuality makes her a prime target for the accusations of her younger siblings and grief-stricken mother. Kate Dickie conveys that mother well, too. A woman tormented with grief as she looses her infant child and than another and slowly begins to believe her own daughter is something evil. Ralph Ineson is very good as the God fearing father trying to keep his family together, but slowly loosing control while trying to keep his faith. He is sometimes hard to understand with his gravely voice combined with the old-style tongue, but he is very good as the patriarch William. Harvey Scrimshaw is solid as Caleb, also coming of age as a young boy and he handles some difficult scenes he’s involved in very well. Rounding out the family is Ellie Granger and Lucas Dawson are Mercy and Jonas, the familiy’s creepy young twins who add to the paranoia by speaking often to the family goat, Black Phillip and claiming he tells them things. Not a good sign!
In conclusion, The Witch was a spooky and effective folk tale horror, but just not as consistently horrifying as film fest hype would have us believe. There are some slow spots and the pacing is very moderate and the old world language is not always easy to decipher, though it does add atmosphere. There are some very spooky scenes, especially in the last act and some effective bloodshed, though Eggers does neuter some of the inter-family tension by letting us know extremely early that there is something very evil in them thar woods. No, it doesn’t live up to the hype, but still a moderately effective story of old world New England evil that has it’s share of chills.
3 goats who may…or may not…be emissaries of evil.
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