One thing that scared the majority of all people during their childhoods was the presence of the unknown; the existence of things that could not be proven to exist. Maybe that's still a largely overlooked yet underlying fear, being that of the grossly concealed, because debuting writer/director Robert Eggers' The Witch, leaves one chilled to the bone after witnessing a film that really worms its way deviously, into the black recesses of your mind from the very first opening scene.
What The Witch does very well, is to pull you feet first into an early 17th century, New England colony where life was as primitive as it was educated; where human nature could be as cruel and unforgiving as it was humble and obedient. The cinematography creates an atmosphere that reeks of wood stoves, blacksmith forges, and barn animals. The wool fabric cascades off wool-shirt sleeves into the streaming beams of window-framed light at the slightest contact from other characters or alternate on-screen, external stimuli.
What drives this atmosphere forward, is the obligatory inclusion of the score, though this score is done very, very well. Mark Korven's instrumentation helps to drop you right in the middle of these scenes, the characters of the film going through absolute terror or agony. There was even a subtle, nuanced measure of the score done so well, that just that subdued surprise in the music, caused some of the audience members I shared the theater with to jump, inhaling surprised gasps of air. Earthy, minimalistic, and purposeful, the music in The Witch will unnerve you as much as the film's subject matter does.
Helping to pry away your comfort zone a whole lot more are the performances from the actors of The Witch. Breakout star Anya Taylor-Joy, portraying the hormoaning Thomasin, daughter of Puritanical husband and wife, William and Katherine, turns in a grounded and naturalistic job in making Thomasin feel as if a real person who experienced a factual and unfortunate sequence of events almost 400 years ago of our reality-based history. Likewise, Ralph Ineson (Harry Potter films) and Kate Dickie (Prometheus) play splendidly, the roles of God-obiding, Puritans, one (William) happy to justify his questionable decisions with the proclamation of the "will of God" and the other (Katherine) put through such consistent hardship and loss that its no wonder she doesn't become catatonic before the end of the film.
On the more junior end of the acting spectrum, fresh actor, Harvey Scrimshaw impresses with his short number of years, only to have his acting go a bit over the top in just a few instances. For the youngest of the cast, Robert Eggers was somehow able to really bring out the creepy on a grand scale in actress Ellie Grainger and actor Lucas Dawson.
The dialogue is another unique aspect to The Witch. Spoken in Jacobean English, a time when Shakespeare was a playwright - for a sense of context - the dialogue is practically poetic, a whimsical contrast to the grim subject matter and atmosphere, blatant adherence to subjects of morbidity peppering the conversations.
What The Witch unfortunately indulged itself in doing at the end however, was pulling the veil of horrid mystery too far back. What this left me with was a reminder that indeed I am watching another film of the horror genre, something I was incredulously content with forgetting through the beginning, middle and most of the end. Therefore, this is the only aspect of the film that could bring me down in my own experience.
What The Witch leaves you with however, is a sense of having gone somewhere you didn't necessarily think of going before in regards to the genre. A story told, heavily mused by the dark tales from our times of old. A ghastly, miasmic reflection of where our collective fascination with subjects of the morbid variety, came from, with bitter, yet obsessive and enthusiastic remembrance.
What was your experience encountering The Witch?
- Josh Doherty