The Witch has been getting very mixed reviews by many different people, some praising it, calling it one of the best horrors films of recent times, while others saying it’s boring and nothing happens during the run time. After a friend showed me the trailer, I decided to go along and see for myself.
The Witch stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie and Harvey Scrimshaw and is written and directed by Robert Eggers. Set in the 1630s, the film follows a family in New England encountering evil forces in the forest next to their farm, not knowing whether they are real or imagined.
While the film is labeled as a horror film, The Witch doesn’t really fall into that category. Horror is more to do with disgust, what The Witch is, is what I like to call a terror film. There are only a few brief moments of blood and mutilated bodies, what we have here is building of tension to an almost unbearable degree.
Most of the shots in the film are long takes, mainly just focusing on the surroundings. The film is set in New England during the winter, so everything has a grey/brown colour to it. Everything around the family is dying, which adds to the sense of foreboding. There are many times when the film focuses on the forest and it’s amazing what the rustling of leaves and the creak of trees can make your mind think up.
The film’s subtitle is A New England Folktale, which says a lot about the film’s story. At the end of the film, on-screen text reveals that all the events in the film were based off several true events and dialogue was taken straight from the record (that’s means the dialogue is all thou’s, thee’s and thy’s, get used to having to decipher Old English). It’s a mishmash of different ghost stories and they all fit perfectly together. The whole story reminds me of stories I was told in my home town about the woods, it does what The Blair Witch Project was doing with its use of the story and setting. The film’s story plays off the idea that this could all be in the characters heads, or creeping paranoia or childish games, until we are as confused and scared as the character’s are. It’s a good way of creeping out your audience without anything scary popping up on screen with a loud bang.
Many movie-goers will see that last point as a deal-breaker on whether they want to go see The Witch. Yes, there are no jump scares, or loud musical stings to jolt you out of your seat. This might have been why it’s been labeled as boring by some critics. Sure, it’s a slow build, but that’s its charm. It doesn’t need to rely on the tired and overused gimmicks of films like Sinister or the Paranormal Activity franchise. It builds to a terrifying conclusion, still holding up its ideas of it being an illusion or reality.
The film covers a lot more than just the horror/terror side of the story. It brings up several themes and has many parallel connections, things like sexuality, religion, persecution, pride, puberty and paranoia, all are explored to some degree within the film. It feels more like a game of chess, with each move of a character to a certain place has some significant meaning to the story or to their development.
Many movie-goers who like their Sinister/Paranormal Activity/Insidious types of films will be disappointed in The Witch. It takes a while to get going, and doesn’t have the same set-piece style scares that those franchises rely on. But for a more thoughtful, methodical terror piece that will haunt you long after you leave the cinema, The Witch is a solid recommendation.
Score: 9/10 A slow build leads to a startling, terrifying film.