This is writer-director Robert Eggers first feature film, crafted with highly authentic care. The setting is a puritan town in the 1630's, where the director took his dialogue from actual 17th-century writings. The bellowing voice of William (Ralph Ineson) pleads for change to the judges in their pilgrim village, but not seeing eye to eye on their religious faith, the family is banished from the town. William takes his wife (Katie Dickie- Prometheus), and five children to live on the outskirts of the village, close to the forest where something evil lurks in the night.
Although it is an ensemble piece, this film is propelled by a star performance from Anya Taylor-Joy, as Thomasin, the pubescent eldest daughter. Her disobedience starts with rejecting her prayers and the beliefs of her parents. While watching the baby and playing peek-a-boo, someone, or some thing, takes the baby away in the blink of an eye. Was it a spirit, or a ghost? Was it an animal? Shocking images of a nude figure grinding a carcass hint at evil in the woods. It's possible that something they can't see is after them late at night, but a blinding fear begins to take hold among the family, as they believe they are being punished for their sins. Making things worse, the harvest is not producing and the farm animals are sick. We are witness to this family destroying themselves from the inside. Young son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) believes he will be punished for taking notice of his sisters flourishing features, while the younger twins agitate Thomasin with claims that she is a witch. All control is lost, making this family crazy, or are they?
Eggers film far exceeds in all areas of detail, set perfectly with a chalk board scratching music score by Mark Korven, and excellent cinematography by Jarin Blaschke- who uses natural light to catch the glowing light of lanterns and the haunted faces of the cast. This allows the film to progresses from skin crawling anticipation to the utterly shocking with ease. A scene that will go into the “what the hell did I just see” category is when Caleb goes missing in the woods, only for the family to find him possessed, then witness him fighting it back to deliver a speech that left me holding my breath. As this horror unfolds, Thomasin becomes the family's scapegoat for the evil surrounding them. Her plight is reminiscent of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, as there is a conflicting religious message from the family that drips with hypocrisy. The more evil that surrounds them, the further the family doubts, making their religious beliefs more important than the love for each other.
The Witch will mess with your mind, flipping between the real and the supernatural, keeping audiences trapped in a constant state of tension. There are superb performances all around, especially Katie Dickie, whose Mommie Dearest like decent into madness made me shake in my seat. Robert Egger's films only flaw is that expectation seemed to be too high to reach, making this certainly something that I will revisit again. Only this time, I think I will watch it with the lights on.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: THE WITCH
STARRING: ANYA TAYLOR-JOY; RALPH INESON; KATE DICKIE
DIRECTED BY: ROBERT EGGERS
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The Witch is a psychologically terrifying film. It is a horror film, telling a New England folktale that divides a line between the beliefs of black magic and religion, but never letting you know what powers are at hand. Audiences might be expecting something in the scare category of films, such as The Conjuring or The Exorcist, but this film is a continuation on a recent trend in visceral, spine tingling thrillers, such as last years Goodnight Mommy and 2014's The Babadook. The Witch is a fascinating film, where the chills linger on as the concept of dysfunctional family is on display in a ye old fashioned telling.