The Witch (2016, dir. Robert Eggers), also known as The VVitch, or The VVitch: A New England Folktale, is a horror film set within a period drama set within the Puritanical beliefs of New England in the 1600s, where persecution of women for being ‘witches’ was rife. After it received a fair amount of hype after its premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and after watching its creepily magnificent trailer, The Witch is a film I’ve been looking forward to seeing for quite some time. Is it worth paying a ticket to see it at the cinema, though? Its synopsis is as follows:
A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession. (source)
Sounds simple enough. And it really is. After watching my fair share of crappy found footage horror films that try so hard to frighten their viewers, it is so refreshing to watch a horror film that has you on the edge of your seat without really trying. I am particularly happy to report that there are few to none jump scares that I can remember. Tension is built in a natural manner as the story itself escalates; as strange events begin occurring, as characters lose trust in one another, as creepy children begin acting in increasingly creepy ways. The whole story is told in such a simple and focused manner – we’re concerned with our character’s survival, as are the characters themselves. What begins as a simple, non-witch-like trick by an older sister escalates and becomes a huge problem, given the Puritan beliefs of the family. We soon come to know that seemingly everything is against this family; nature, a lack of survival skills, deteriorating mental health, increasingly strange occurrences, and the religious threat of witches who seemed to be blamed for most things at the time.
The story of The Witch is not only impressively told, but it is also impressively acted. Stand-outs are Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson as mother Katherine and father William respectively; both actors from Game of Thrones, a particular favourite of mine. Kate Dickie is so perfect as a fierce mother, mirroring her role on Game of Thrones as the perpetually breastfeeding Lysa Arryn. Her ferocity contributes to the fear of her children, thereby increasing the threat and fear of the audience also. Harvey Scrimshaw as middle child Caleb is also a highlight, particularly as the story hits peak terror. But my ultimate acting highlight in this film is relative newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy, whose portrayal of Thomasin as an innocent, wide-eyed victim was stunning. Thomasin makes the mistake of making a joke with her siblings, and is severely punished for it. But it is by the film’s conclusion that you witness Anya Taylor-Joy’s genius in portraying this character. The film is steeped in misery and bleakness, such that by the film’s conclusion you feel the littlest bit of relief for Thomasin. The script helps along with the fantastic acting, with authentic language from 1600s, in addition to original accents of those newly arrived to the promised land of America.
It also helps that the direction by Robert Eggers is absolutely perfect. All throughout this film, you sense the looming terror of the forest that surrounds our exiled characters. We don’t need to be told that they’re unsafe; as events escalate, as failures of survival compound the horror experienced by our protagonist Thomasin. These feeling of a lack of safety is underscored by direction which seems to slowly suck both the audience and the characters towards the forest, a slow zoom towards the trees that feels like you’re being pulled in. It’s the little things that get you – a young man pulling apart an animal trap that could close at any point, a game of peek-a-boo with a baby that would normally be innocent play between siblings, and ferocious wood chopping by a father whose anger is overwhelming. All of these activities are met by atmospheric music and the occasional sounds of a discordant choir.
Whilst watching The Witch, I definitely felt some déjà vu for a film called Häxan (1922), which is a must-see for those interested in the topic of witches. All in all, The Witch is a marvel. Watching this film is all about sitting within the creepiness of the family dynamics, and the creepiness of the situation that the family are in; being immersed in the story as much as the family are immersed in the dark, foreboding forest. The Witch is chilling, atmospheric, and very scary indeed. This is one horror film that you cannot miss seeing at the cinema.
Is it worth paying for a ticket?: Yes.
Watch the trailer here.
The creepy children talking to Phillip the Goat really got to me too! lol! The film was beautifully shot and really set up a terrifying atmosphere.
Creepy kids are always the worst! 😀
I saw this at a cinema. It’s a great example of building horror through atmosphere. The acting, the script which layers calamities on the poor family and probes their religious and psychological manias, the social pressures and all of the period details worked well to create a unique horror film.
Such an amazing film to see in the cinema. A very unique horror film indeed!
I am SO happy to read about the zero-minimal jump scares. I’ve heard so many good things about this movie but I’m such a wimp, and it’s jump scares that put me off. Adding this to my watch list 🙂
This film is definitely scary, but it’s much too smart of a film to rely on silly conventions like jump scares. There are some really disturbing moments but it’s more the layers of suspense and terror that get you. I hope you enjoy it when you see it!
ANOTHER good review for this! Goodness, I have got to get to it ASAP! Excellent work Anna!
Thanks heaps Zoe! You definitely have to see this one!
Nice review. Pretty terrifying and unforgettable. For all of the right reasons.
Thanks heaps Dan! 🙂
I don’t like scary movies but this one was infectious. We’re going to know Eggers for years.
Absolutely, what a talent. I almost can’t believe this is his first film!
You’re right, the directing was perfect. I need to see this again, I saw it last year at a film festival. Almost like this years Babadook 😀
I’ve never even seen The Babadook! I really need to get around to that one.
Oh if you liked The Witch then I reckon you’ll like The Babadook. All atmosphere, no jump-scares, and a really unsettling storyline. I thought The Witch was a tiny bit better, but I’d still highly recommend The Babadook. Plus its Australian 😛
I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed this! My fellow moviegoers, not so much. haha
Really! Were people a bit vocal about disliking it? It was pretty well-received when I saw it, but the cinema was also quite empty. It’s probably a bit ‘niche’ for most people.
Excellent review!! I have a feeling this will come up again at the end of the year while making my top 10 list 🙂
Thanks heaps Courtney! I get that feeling as well! 🙂
Eggers was actually inspired by Haxan, which i really need to see. Loved the Witch. The ending is one of the finest conclusions to a movie I’ve ever seen
Haxan is such a significant film, I really enjoyed it. But it’s not your typical witchy film! Still quite a bit of fun. I absolutely loved the ending of The Witch as well – after all the suspense and layers of doom throughout the body of the film, the ending was almost a relief. I would have loved to see more past that point to satisfy my own curiosity, but it really was the perfect place to end.
Oops, I wasn’t logged in when I typed the comment on your Last Temptation Of Christ review. Anywhow, this is a beautiful writing 🙂 I just did a review of it, I thought it was a fantastic movie given how I normally hate horror films. 10/10, it might even make my best films of the year list. I liked how you talked about foreboding sense of evil and danger and you’re right about the forest shots. I’s simple yet haunting all at the same time.
Sorry I haven’t checked your posts as of late, how are you? 🙂
Ooh, btw, I left a comment on your Under The Skin original review as well!
Thanks so much! 🙂 I loved watching this and especially enjoyed writing about it. I’m not the biggest fan of horror films either so it really takes a special one to get good marks from me.
I’m feeling good! How are you going?
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