Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
I don’t like admitting this but I used to hate horror movies when I was much younger. I never really understood why my friends enjoyed horror movies like Saw or Halloween or Friday the 13th. I didn’t see the appeal; I had this naive idea that all horror movies sucked and none of them were scary, and so, I never gave them a chance. I was completely wrong because back when I thought this as a pre-teen and early teenager, there were horror movies I enjoyed. I was thoroughly creeped out by The Others and The Sixth Sense as a kid. I just didn’t think of them as horror movies, even when they scared me. To my younger self, I only thought schlock gory slasher movies were horror films. I was ignorant and stubborn in this incorrect perception. It wasn’t until college that I watched a lot of the old classics for the first time, the amazing slashers that I used to stupidly dismiss like Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, and (the horrifying) Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Maybe I didn’t fully understand the fun of watching horror movies. But I’m glad my views changed, because now I love scary movies. I still think a lot of them are stupid because let’s be real, a lot of them are (looking at you Ouija). But every once in a while a new horror film will come out that is not only well made, but genuinely disturbing. The Witch is that movie.
The more I think about The Witch, the more I enjoy and appreciate it. I saw it yesterday at a matinee and I can’t stop thinking about it. The movie has clawed its way into my very being and I cannot release it from my thoughts. The movie is about a family in 1630s New England who are banished from their plantation for being too religiously fervent and move to the outer edges of the woods, where they encounter something supernatural (spoiler alert, it’s a witch!) and have to face the consequences of this force and the effects it has on their family and their personal psyches. It is well-acted, wonderfully scored, beautifully shot and edited, the animals are creepy (go to hell Black Philip!), the actual witch is scary, the production design is historically authentic, the characters have dimensions, the direction is patient and on point. This is a film that is not only creepy, but incredibly well-made in every aspect. I can see this movie becoming one of my favorite horror films because of how magnificently everything was realized, and particularly because The Witch is more than just scary.
The movie also acts as a family drama and coming-of-age tale. Much of the film deals with the family dynamic: the children are scorned when they misbehave, the teenage daughter is annoyed by her younger siblings antics, the parents argue at night while not trying to waken their children. I was surprised by how relatable and real these characters feel when the dialogue is authentic to the time period and many lines were taken straight from actual trials and journals of the time. These characters struggle with survival and their faith. They question God, their sins and their reality. It is a movie that raises interesting themes and ideas about sin and trying to maintain faith in one’s god in the face of tragedy, while creating an interesting story about a family dealing with a serious issue. The eponymous witch acts as a metaphor for any crisis a family must face, whether it be a disease or a crime that can befall any family.
A pair of incredible performances center this movie, as performed by Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin and Ralph Ineson as her father, William. The two are completely believable as a father and daughter struggling to comprehend what is happening to them. In fact, all the are actors are good; one scene involving Harvey Scrimshaw as the son Caleb completely blew me away. My mouth was wide open in shock by what I was witnessing and by his performance (you’ll know the scene when you see it). As good as the acting, writing and production design are, the movie did drag for me a little near the end of the first act.
After the movie introduces the family in an amazing opening trial and shows the witch, the movie solely deals with the family drama. The performances of the characters Thomasin and William made these scenes watchable, but I wasn’t sure where the story was headed. It stopped being scary and I was confused by what was going to occur next, for I was thinking that the witch would immediately continue to torment this family, especially when the witch was introduced so early, maybe 10 or 15 minutes into the film. Instead, we received a lot of scenes showing what life and survival would be like in 1630. But as the movie progressed I realized this was the point, drama and character were as important to the filmmakers as the horror. I loved that the movie had long takes and had a slow buildup to an incredible final act, I just felt that the overall pacing was uneven from scene to scene during the second act. On repeat viewings I’m sure this nitpick will disappear now that I understand the purpose of those scenes and will appreciate the movie more.
The Witch will become a horror movie that I can see myself watching just to experience it all over again, well after the horror of the unknown dissipates. It will stand alongside my favorites like 28 Days Later, The Descent, and Silence of the Lambs because of the film’s thematic complexity and character dynamics. Also, the movie is legitimately scary. Many scenes unnerved me and I didn’t know what to expect. The director, Robert Eggers, conjured some seriously disturbing imagery that I will not forget. Also, Black Philip, the goat in the poster above, can seriously burn in hell. That goat freaked me out, and goats are usually awesome.
If you enjoy great horror films that rely on creepy imagery and good drama more than jump scares and gore to create dread and an unsettling atmosphere, then see this movie. I can see a lot of people hating this movie and finding it boring because of the style of dialogue, of the lack of jump scares, of the film’s patience and focus on story and characters. This is unfortunate, because this movie is really scary once you settle into the story. But I recommend it to everyone anyway. This movie is worth experiencing. Go see Rober Eggers’ The Witch.