Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Genre: Horror/ Thriller
After their banishment from their village, a devout Christian family in 1630 New England live an isolated life on the edge of an impassable woodland, with every act dedicated to their religion. When their new born son suddenly disappears and their crops fail, extreme fear and paranoia set in as they all turn against one another.
There are so many generic, lazy and clichéd films that come out these days that are classed as part of the ‘horror’ genre, and they often resort to being like this due to a genuine lack of creativity. This is of course a genre that is almost as difficult to get right as comedy, but very few ‘horror’ films are genuinely scary as they just resort to cheap and clichéd gimmickry and though some are perfectly entertaining (some are even funny) they certainly do not achieve the desired affect that a film of this genre should in theory achieve.
Of course, as with comedy, what the viewers find genuinely scary is subjective and for me the best horror is subtle and psychological; it is about a perfectly presented mood and tone that gets under the skin of the viewer and leaves a lasting impression, often with unanswered questions. Well, writer/director Robert Eggers’ impressive debut is more than happy to take its time and examine its themes on its own terms without resorting to any James Wan-style cliché or gimmickry, and only emerges as a genuinely haunting and richly atmospheric film.
What is most impressive is just how assured and confident Eggers is with his film and The Witch, just like The Survivalist is proof that auteurs can bring their own unique and creative vision to the screen despite budget constraints if they demonstrate the will to. Of course what we cannot understand or see is what can scare or disturb us the most and Eggers plays on this notion to superb effect; The Witch is a film shrouded in rich atmosphere and intrigue in which the audience can never really know exactly what is happening or why.
It is obvious throughout that the film takes on a subject matter that Robert Eggers has genuine passion or interest for and he goes for authenticity by having the characters speak dialogue that was recorded at the time of the film’s setting and many elements of the narrative are based on many folk tales from this time too. The film captures its unique sense of time and place perfectly and this only enhances its infectious and haunting atmosphere of mystery and intrigue.
To go into any detail of the plot would spoil it for anyone yet to watch this film, but it contains what in some ways is a simple premise, but how Eggers depicts this with an intentionally measured and patient way means the atmosphere, intrigue and mystery only increasingly build as the film reaches its haunting climax. The Witch is not likely to grace any multiplex as it as an intelligently made film for intelligent viewers that like to be able to think for themselves and make their own conclusions, and this intelligent approach by Eggers only serves to make The Witch more haunting and memorable. This is however a film that does deserve to be seen at the cinema as the stunning camerawork and sound design, Mark Korven’s moody score and Jarin Blaschke’s stunning cinematography do make The Witch extremely cinematic.
The performances too are strong; fans of The Office like myself may struggle to not see Ralph Ineson’s performance as just Chris Finch with a mullet, but he does provide a suitable brooding intensity to his stoic character. Kate Dickie is also excellent as the wife and they both depict very effectively the deep emotional conflicts that each character experiences throughout the narrative developments. The young cast are also excellent; both Anya Taylor-Joy as the oldest daughter, Harvey Scrimshaw as the youngest son who is fiercely loyal and dedicated to his father, and Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson as the two younger children all excel in their individually crucial roles and only add to the intrigue and unnerving atmosphere of the film.
As The Witch patiently builds to its climax it does certainly provide more questions than answers, and though perhaps there are maybe more unanswered questions than is ideal, Eggers remains in complete control of his film and all the questions asked only serve to make for an intoxicating atmosphere and cinematic experience that is both gripping and ultimately quite haunting.
With his impressively confident debut, Robert Eggers proves that the horror genre can still be extremely effective, engaging and haunting if done well. Eggers proves that in this genre less can very much be more and The Witch is an example of this genre at its visceral best.