The Witch is a new indie horror film written and directed by Robert Eggers and is his directorial debut. It's in UK cinemas now and you can find a screening near you here. The plot of the film is set in the modern period and sees a Puritan family outcast from a plantation community and forced to live alone at the edge of the woods – woods that may or may not contain dark forces bend on their destruction.
If you like deliberately paced, atmospheric and different horror films then just stop this video and go buy a ticket because this film is great.
So what made it so good? The atmosphere is creepy as hell – Eggers said he wanted to create a nightmare and boy did he succeed. The sound – disembodied cattle bleating, wind whistling through the reeds and the crackle of the fire at night – helps enormously here and really ratchets up the tension. This combined with Mark Korven’s haunting musical score – made using 17th century instruments and featuring screeching strings and a doom-laden choir – reminds the viewer why sound is half of any film.
The film-makers used only natural light aside from night exteriors and candles for interiors shots and this, along with the washed out cinematography, lends the film a bleak, harsh reality. The imagery used in the film is highly suggestive and foreboding until we get a sudden burst of memorable, harsh violence or a glimpse at the witches themselves in all their dirty, ragged beauty.
The editing is similarly paced with long-takes and tracking shots bubbling up tension under the surface until you're shown just enough of the action to make your imagination run wild. There are a number of beautiful shots and the use of space is fantastic – several of the wide shots of the forest look amazing and will have you searching every inch of the frame to find something lurking in the darkness.
Eggers said that he spent four years researching the era, and the lore surrounding witches, and it shows. All the characters speak in appropriate Early Modern English and the small farm where the action is set was actually build from scratch by the crew. This attention to detail and historical accuracy lends the film a great feeling of legitimacy and pulls you further into the nightmare. The Puritan mindset and the toil of farming is also bought to the forefront and makes the family's plight all the more impactful.
The story, although open to interpretation, is far more than it seems. Yes, It is about a family being slowing picked off by witches but it's also much more than that. Traditional Christian values are explored and tested, the ideal of the nuclear family is questioned, blinding pride and societal isolation leads to ruin and it shows how suggestion and paranoia can tear communities apart and make the imaginary become reality.
There is also a nice feminist slant to proceedings as the film rejects the 'witch-as-victim' paradigm and portrays it's female characters as complex and fallible whilst having the same human needs and desires as their male counterparts. The last positive thing to say about the film is that the acting across the board is fantastic – not a single performer puts a foot wrong and everyone's struggles and motivations are clear from the off. Of particular note are younger cast members who do a brilliant job with some truly testing material.
There was little I actively disliked about the film but there were a few things I would have liked to have seen done differently. Firstly, the director has said in interviews that before making this film he had pitched several films which were too weird and obscure to get financial backing. This is a shame because I would have liked to have seen The Witch push it's more out-there and dark imagery further to create something truly twisted and different.
Secondly, I was personally hoping for the feminist angle of the film to be more prominent. The issue of witch persecution is gender-based to such an extreme that I wished the film had explored this element of the story a little more to really do it justice.
As I mentioned this film is certainly open to interpretation, which I like, but the film does seem to quite clearly state that the witches are real and that they have supernatural powers. On the one hand this is cool, scary and makes for some amazing imagery (that last scene...) but in a way undercuts what I thought were some of the film's more interesting ideas about the history of witch persecution and society's of the past's ignorance.
Nevertheless this is a very smart and effective horror film which really got under my skin and will no doubt stay there for days to come. I'm going to give it an 8/10 and would recommend it to fans of The Village, Antichrist, Kill List and The Shining.
Have you seen The Witch? Did you like it? Did you hate it? Why? Let me know in the comments below and subscribe for more reviews coming soon!