“Did ye make some unholy bond with that goat?”
Set in the 1630s, The Witch is a period piece that follows a family tormented by witchcraft. After leaving their home plantation, couple William and Katherine and their five children, Thomasin, Caleb, Mercy and Jonas and baby Samuel settle on a barren stretch of land bordered by woods that loom ominously by their small hovel. The first sign of evil comes when Samuel disappears into, it seems, thin air. The distraught and frightened family blame the disappearance on a wolf but they can only convince themselves for so long. As more things go awry, the family begins to suspect a witch and they turn on each other, blaming Thomasin, then the twins Mercy and Jonas of signing the devil’s book. After a series of unfortunate events, Thomasin remains the only family member still standing. In the last few minutes, with a talking goat and naked witches dancing around a fire, the movie veers off the path of scary and becomes completely bizarre.
Robert Eggers’ talent is revealed through his first full length directing debut in The Witch. The Witch is dark and shadowy and it’s muted colors create a grave tone for the film. The cinematography adds another layer of storytelling altogether and works with the film’s colors to not just tell, but brilliantly show the story. Some shots are cropped and tight on the subject while others are wide and showcase the landscape. In some shots, the camera slowly approaches a character, creating the undeniable feeling of an evil presence among the family. Eerie and screeching string music, sharp to the ear, accompanies the film and adds the finishing touches to the unnerving atmosphere.
Every performance in The Witch is perfect. Much of the dialogue was taken from authentic writings from the time period and the actors’ delivery sounds seamlessly natural. Even the ‘thys’, ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ flow, which makes for an even more immersive film. The few child actors in The Witch (especially Harvey Scrimshaw as Caleb) do a great job and their performances hold up just as well to the adult.
The Witch is a very scary movie, but it scares in a way that is more low-key and subtle than in-your-face slasher films. It plays off the audience’s knowledge from the title that there is a witch or evil being of some kind, but doesn’t provide answers as to who, where, what or when. There are several alarming scenes but the majority of scares come in less obvious and less gory forms. The Witch is masterfully made because there are not jump scares but almost every scene is set up in a way to make it seem as if one is coming.
The Witch not only provides a good scare but it also gives what appears to be a very accurate depiction of New England life in the 1600s. The Witch is a great study in old English language but most prominently it shows the tight and all controlling grip religion’s hand held over everyday life. Religion, and a fear of the devil above all else, was such an omnipotent force that families were inclined to turn in their own relations under the accusation of witchcraft in order to save themselves.
Every aspect of The Witch is crafted superbly, from production design, to dialogue and music and especially for the horror genre, it is superb. Aside from a strange ending, The Witch is an unsettling and chilling horror film that goes deeper than just superficial scares and the sinister feeling it emits penetrates and settles deep inside you, lasting well after the last credits roll.