Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Witch, The (2016)

Director: Robert Eggers
Notable Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Kate Dickie, Ralph Ineson, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson

Despite the focus that “terror” receives in the world of horror films with questions of ‘is it scary’ or ‘did it shock you’ that get thrown around, the horror movies that really stick with the viewer are not the ones that make you jump necessarily, but the ones that get under your skin. Dread is wholly more powerful than terror in the cinematic world. The Witch, or as the marketing of the film would like it to be called The VVitch, is a film whose purpose is not to terrify as much as it is to unnerve, soaking its audience in a sort of permeating sense of fear, anxiety, and paranoia. To this extent, The Witch is massively successful and will probably be a forerunner in the ‘best horror of 2016’ category. However, the film may not be for all horror fans with its very subtle approach at narrative and theme. Don’t let that frighten you though, jump into the atmosphere and let the film work its own black magic.

For a family in New England, being expelled for their intense religious beliefs from the community could spell death. However, they are determined to continue to live their own Christian way and build their own farm on the outskirts of the woods. When their young baby goes missing though, the children begin to suspect there is a witch in the woods, no matter what their parents say.

Scream if you want to be scared!
The atmosphere in The Witch simply drips off of the screen. Whether it’s the long, drawn out visuals, the pulsating and stabbing score, or the growing paranoia of the performances, this film is atmosphere first and everything else second. In a way, this will make The Witch a love it or hate it kind of film. Director and writer Robert Eggers focuses on creating this sense of dread and unease in the film as the focus and this means that the film tends to be vague and subtle in many ways. At times it can be a little too vague, particularly when it comes to the latter half and the witches powers start to affect the family in more obvious ways, but considering how well the film utilizes its sense of anxiety and dread as a whole it’s hard to disregard its effect. The plot is never the focus, outside of some of its religious themes and some solid characterization, and that’s perfect for the laser like emphasis on crafting the atmosphere. Just knowing that this is the idea behind The Witch will help an audience enjoy the film for what it is.

From there, the film is still impressive all the way around. Considering that most of the cast is children or young adults, the acting is pretty remarkable and the setting, despite its simplicity, works to the same effect as everything else mentioned above. The attention to detail in the film is awesome, whether it’s the old school wording of the dialogue or the use of natural lighting (or candle light) for the scenes, The Witch effectively recreates a believable look and feel for the time period. Those kinds of details count and it had to be praised in the case of this film as a layer of realism to make the surrealism work so well. It’s believable and it justifies the sense of dread that I mentioned above. It also helps that much of the tension that is played out in the film is more from the domestic disturbances of this family and their belief systems than it is from supernatural events around them that only adds to the realism of its foundations.

It also must be addressed that the use of the witch, as a character, only powers the atmosphere through the detail work of the setting or the pacing of the film. Once the audience realizes that the witch is not necessarily going to be the on screen antagonist for the protagonist family and instead of force or presence to be felt, the film is much easier to digest. Of course, the titular witch makes a few appearances – perhaps more depending on the audience’s interpretation of her powers and whether or not one feels that there is a connection to some of the animals or natural elements in the film – and when she does it’s certainly for powerful effect with the substantial build of tension and atmosphere. Once again, Eggers doesn’t seem to be concerned with showing the audience too much of the antagonist or her intent and leaves it up to the audience.

Welcome the star of this film: Black Phillip.
The Witch is a subtle and vicious horror film worthy of much of the praise it has received. Eggers perfectly plants the seeds of paranoia, dread, and fear with his intense use of ‘not showing’ the audience things and making them put the pieces of the plot together themselves to craft a film that’s delightfully terrifying. This is not a film with tons of jump scares or shock moments and it uses its human interactions as the crux that holds the supernatural elements in place within a ‘real’ context. Even with high expectations, I was blown away by the atmospheric sense of weight that suffocates the audience in this film and its lingering style only gets better with further inspection.

I can’t wait for The Witch to drop on home video so I can really dig into the awesome detailing that this film uses.

Written By Matt Reifschneider


  1. This movie was boring as a dog's ass and the period dialogue was annoying as shit. The baby sacrifice montage was eerie but otherwise the film was dry and forgettable

  2. Just finished this film and I loved it. It was haunting and well acted minus a few issues with Caleb. Look forward to another viewing