MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Witch’ flies above all the hype

the witch feature

Film: The Witch
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Kate Dickie, Ralph Ineson
Directed by: Robert Eggers

If there’s anything we’ve learned from horror cinema, it’s that witches have the immense power to take an already awful day and make it exponentially shittier. Considering that last statement, The Witch’s witches are so hellbent on screwing with a 1630s farming family in New England, that the seams barely holding the group together start to show. More than just a scare-fest, The Witch brings up concepts of misogyny and religious extremism and steeps them in an inescapable nihilism that’ll grip you harder than you’ll be gripping your seat. This is confident filmmaking knocking down the preconceptions set forth by the genre’s ghosts.

It’s a dark time for William (Ralph Ineson), his wife, and their four kids. After leaving the local settlement to live on their own, their newborn son vanishes into the woods. The question on if those dark forces are real unravels the troupe, leaving them as perfect prey for whatever lurks in the forest. Also, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the eldest daughter, has a hard time acclimating to the extreme religious devotion that her parents emulate.

The real big problem with The Witch is that it’s almost self-aware of how perfectly constructed it is. As a 90-minute white-knuckle thriller, it makes the audience sit through a fair amount of tedium before throwing the proverbial hammer down. Because of that tedium, you’re almost trained to think that the paradigm shifts with every small development. Director/writer Robert Eggers expertly strips the movie down to bare terror while providing layer upon layer of subtext, making the concept of witchcraft all the more terrifying.

That same tedium takes life in the workaday visuals. The muddy colors drown you in the quietly ingratiating world of farming in the 1630s; a time so damn bleak, especially if your crop isn’t producing. Whether or not the aesthetics were supposed to echo that tedium and hopelessness is another story, but it creates such a great atmosphere primed for horror that you may not care about that question.

Now, the question on everybody’s mind seems to be on whether The Witch is actually scary or not. To me, it’s terrifying in a classic sense, not in a modern one. The scares are carefully doled out without making you jump in your seat. The Witch is the kind of film that makes you wallow in its own filth, almost completely emotionally suffocating you with development after development. As this family starts ripping apart, you can feel that evil is orchestrating the downfall without seeing the strings.

The Witch is also a horror film in which every performance is so damn assured and applicable to the concept. Anya Taylor-Joy is pitch perfect as a girl imprisoned and persecuted by the own society she lives in, forced to lash out. Those ideas of religious fervor that I mentioned in the beginning? There is no one else to deliver that religious exceptionalism than Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickey, two people making their easily one-sided characters multi-dimensional. Sorry for the choice of verbiage; every word can be misconstrued as a spoiler today.

One of the best things about The Witch? It will reward beautifully on multiple viewings. The portrait-esque snapshot of a time without rational hope is as endearing as it is bone-shaking. I think y’all know what you need to see this weekend.

GRADE: A-

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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