This ain't no Hocus Pocus kids! Witches aren't usually the first port of call when coming up with horror film ideas. They work well with family film's like Nicholas Roeg's surreal adaptation of Roald Dhal's The Witches but can cackling old women with pointy hats and broomsticks scare grown adults? After seeing Robert Egger's striking debut, the answer would seem to be a resounding yes. The Witch is the best horror film since Kill List and is sure to become a future horror classic. I like to think of myself as a hardened horror movie nut but The Witch did actually manage to scare me, more so than the recent It Follows and The Babadook.
It's a fairytale for adults and Robert Egger goes down alleys as dark as a film can get. Within the first five or ten minutes, I could tell that I'd be in for a stunning ride as we're treated to some seriously nightmarish imagery involving a naked old woman smothering herself in the blood of a baby, accompanied by a screeching score which is sure to give you the shivers. Terrifying sequences like this appear sporadically through the film so it never feels overdone, it just adds to the mounting tension in each scene until it explodes into the most wonderfully indulgent finale.
A lot of films set in medieval times can be a bit trying. A Field in England and Black Death both felt like the setting worked against them by getting bogged down in confusing olde worlde Shakespearean-esque language. However, The Witch is never anything more than compelling throughout. The sole focus of the film is the family and all the parts are acted beautifully by the relatively unknown cast. The audience becomes incredibly involved and invested in the characters so you care about what's going to happen to them. There's a sense of dread in every scene but you're never quite sure about what's going to happen next which makes for unpredictable and absorbing viewing.
I can't talk about The Witch without mentioning just how gorgeous the film looks. You could pretty much take any shot and hang it up for display in a gallery because it's just beautiful to look at. The eerie shots of the deep wood reminded me of Lars Von Trier's equally unsettling, Antichrist, however The Witch has a more fantastical quality to the images which adds to the Brothers Grimm fairytale kind of vibe. There isn't a second in the film's tight 90 minute running time where a shot doesn't ooze atmosphere. It's so refreshing to get a horror film which doesn't rely on a few seconds of gore to shock the audience, but actually takes it time to conjure up genuinely frightening images. There's stuff in this film which won't leave my head for a long time after viewing it.
Equally as atmospheric as the imagery is the sound. I can't think of a more striking score or sound design since The Shining and it helps a lot to generate such an unsettling atmosphere. The exceedingly creepy dissonant violins and loud chants build scenes up to a shattering intensity where I found myself holding my breath. In fact, the whole film has such a strange and unnerving quality to it. It feels like you're watching something you shouldn't. It's no wonder that the film's even been endorsed by the Satanic Temple itself with the Temple's spokesperson calling it "a trans-formative Satanic experience."
The Witch has to be my favourite film of the year and one of my favourite horror films full stop. I found it absolutely captivating and full of tension from beginning to end. It's pretty much as perfect as horror can get and exudes the quality of a classic chiller from the 60's. Robert Eggers is definitely going to be a director to look out for in the future. He's proven to critics that the horror genre is alive and well and can still genuinely scare the hell out of people. The Witch is a sensational experience for the eyes and ears, it's cinema at its finest.