Dir. Robert Eggers (2015)
A New England family, banished from their settlement for their views on religion, are forced to live in the wilderness. After their newborn child is taken by what the family believes to be a wolf, and their family dynamic begins to wither and die along with their crops, the family must fight to survive this New England Folk Tale.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Full Disclosure: I don't find witches scary. Like, at all, usually. Well, outside of one.
This one. But only cuz of the creepy bastard to the left.
This film didn't add to that list. The Witch was advertised as the scariest horror film in a long time, and even Stephen King said it "scared the hell out of" him. Naturally, after reading a lot of the reviews and seeing the commercials and television spots, I was expecting a much scarier movie than I received. In fact, The Witch can hardly be classified as a horror movie at all. It's a historical drama, a period piece defined by its dialogue, scenery, and cinematography. On these false expectations, the movie fails tremendously, and anyone buying a ticket to see the next indie super-film like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity were not very happy with their purchase. And those people need to fucking relax, adjust their expectations, and give it another go.
The Witch was a masterpiece, but not in the way I or a lot of others expected it to be. Robert Eggers' direction was outstanding, and in my opinion will gain him an Oscar nomination. The writing was excellent, and the score was used so sparingly that it became a million times more effective than it would've in other films. Most of the film is completely silent (I could hear the people three rows behind me eating their popcorn, it was so quiet.) The cinematography was stellar, and while I wasn't afraid of the titular Witch, I damn sure won't be going into the woods anytime soon. I kept expecting the father of the family to look around at his destitution and exclaim "God it sucks out here." Because, realistically, it did, and the filmmakers took advantage of the deprivation and loneliness of the surroundings to craft a stellar atmosphere for a slow-burn horror movie.
See? There's just... fucking nothing around.
The acting in this film was absolutely top-notch, led by Anya Taylor-Joy, who captured completely the despair her character felt as everything around her came tumbling down. From her reluctance to leave the settlement to her horror as the worst events unfolded, we shared those experiences with her character. We felt the utter destitution of life in the 1600's, we felt the solitude of being ostracized from your community and, eventually, your family. And finally, we felt her desire for more, to "see the world". We understand her. Ralph Ineson and Katie Dickie, two Game of Thrones alums, are spectacular as Taylor-Joy's parents. Even the actors that played Caleb, Mercy, and Jonas, the other three children in the family, knock it out of the park, reminding us that it is indeed a horror movie after all and kids are creepy as hell. And while the character development was absolutely first-rate, the scariest actor in the movie wasn't one of the human characters at all.
Everybody do the Black Phillip Dance!
Eggers' hits a home run with The Witch, and the praise for this film is justified. Just don't go in expecting abject horror and a fast-paced thrill ride, because it's not. It's so much more than that. It's a remarkable indie film by a first-time director who puts his past experience as a set and costume designer to work making his film the highlight of the year so far. I felt while watching this movie very much like when I saw Foxcatcher. I wasn't entirely sure that it was that great of a movie, but the acting and directing was so good, it had to be a great movie. In Eggers, we have a new hit director, and someone that will be the go-to for beautiful movies in the future. Taylor-Joy shouldn't have a hard time finding work in the future either. And that's a good thing. Movies like this should pave the way for the what's to come from the entire genre.
Who this movie is for: Slow-burn horror fans, Witch movie lovers, Goat enthusiasts
Bottom Line: You need to fix your expectations before walking in the door, because The Witch is truly outstanding. The best acted and directed movies I've seen in a long time, and for a horror movie? You've got to be kidding me. Could use a bit more action, maybe a little bit louder dialog (to sound out over the popcorn), but a truly stellar movie from top to bottom. Worth a watch and a rewatch after that.