IN ORDER FOR SOMETHING TO BE SCARY, SCARY THINGS NEED TO HAPPEN.
Alright guys, I just got back from seeing The Witch.
The Witch centers on a 1600's family in colonial America, who have been banished from their settlement, and have to fend for themselves on an isolated and struggling farm in the middle of nowhere. Our family is surrounded by woods, and in these woods evil lurks. Cool premise right? Let's talk about why it was so disappointing.
Compliment Sandwich. The Good.
The things that worked in this film worked well. The setting was perfectly eerie. This time period was full of superstition and religion, and that does the movie a few favors.
The religious superstition harbored by this family give the whole movie a potent sense of the supernatural. That certainly helps to put the viewer in the mood to be scared.
The music was also fantastic. It had that old school Satanic horror sound to it, with the creepy opera sounding music that gets louder, and louder, and whining violins...you know what I'm talking about. It works very well within the film and does a great job of building tension.
The music is especially effective in one scene, where that strange Carmina Burana style chanting grows louder, and the camera lingers on the woods for a few seconds. It does make you wonder what lurks in it's darkness, and it's a potent cue that whatever lives there is evil.
The movie looks very good. Some people have complained that it is too dark, but I disagree. The time period is very drab and it takes place in winter, so the skies are dark, the trees are bare and the nights are cold. So in this the cinematography worked very well. There were many shots where the camera lingered on the woods or on a scene, just long enough to be unsettling. The pacing is effective at building a sense of dread.
The actors were all wonderful. Ralph Ineson, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Kate Dickie all ably handle their responsibilities within the family. Newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy was excellent in her role as Thomason, the eldest daughter of the family.
The last thing I'll talk about here is the language. The period accurate language and diction, was absolutely entrancing. The dialogue was perfect and the delivery fit in extremely well with the time frame. Few things drive me more insane than seeing movies that take place in other time periods, but they speak just like we do. It doesn't take a lot of work. Just tweak the language a little bit, and give the audience a morphed version of what we have now,. Like they did with Deadwood. This was done well in The Witch. We got a great idea of how people in America spoke at the time, verily.
The Not So Good.
Here's where the movie has a few problems. Things like ambience, setting, cinematography, suspense, and music are all crucial to a horror movie, but it all falls to dust if nothing scary ever happens.
It seems here the creators were so focused on setting the mood that they forgot that the most vital aspect of a horror movie is for frightening things to actually happen, and that's is where this movie unfortunately slips up.
Frightening does not equal creepy. This movie is just not frightening. The movie does a fantastic job of building tension, but tension has to break at some point. Every movie has to build to something, and it feels like this movie builds to more building, and then the movie is over. Blue balls.
More Cautionary Tale Than Horror Movie
The movie didn't quite feel like a horror movie, it felt more like a cautionary tale on the dangers of Satan and goats. The movie could have been so potent if they capitalized on our (cultural) knowledge of the Salem Witch Trials.
The Witch takes place a good amount earlier than the famous witch hunts, but it was the same era. It did still tread the realm of, "What if it was all true? What if Goody Proctor really did converse with the Devil?", but the movie never fully explores that. That's a bummer because The Witch could have been a great horror film. There just was no kaboom.
Compliment Sandwich - More Good
The Witch did boast some wonderful Satanic imagery. The best example of this is Black Phillip. Patrice Oneal fans are laughing already. That's good. Black Phillip is the family's black goat. The goat has been a common image of Satan for centuries, and Satan is often depicted as a horned being with cloven hooves, and demons are often depicted to have goat like features. The film also featured other Satanic imagery such as black ravens and the use of vivid reds, amongst all the gray.
There was finally a moment in this film where I said to myself "Yes, now the shit will really hit the fan" but it never really did. Things progressed slowly from that point onward until the end of the film, which overall was unsurprising and predictable, in my opinion.
Listen, I'm not saying the movie was bad, but after all the hype about how scary it was, I was expecting something more, well, frightening. Had this movie had more scary moments it would have been a great movie. Go see it anyway. You might find it absolutely terrifying. For some people suspense, build up, set up and ambience can be enough. Stringing your nerves along for an hour and a half, for some people that's enough. Go ahead and edge all night. For me, I need palpable fear. I need to feel it in my gut and feel my heart beat faster before I think something is going to happen. I need to be gripping the arm rests to keep them from covering my face. For me The Witch did none of that.
So despite an interesting story, premise, setting, and very good acting, it just never took off the way I was hoping. It never really hit home.