The Witch Movie Review
Written by Becky Roberts
Released by Universal Pictures UK
Written and directed by Robert Eggers
2015, 92 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released on 11th March 2016
Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin
Ralph Ineson as William
Kate Dickie as Katherine
Harvey Scrimshaw as Caleb
Ellie Grainger as Mercy
Lucas Dawson as Jonas
It’s New England, 1630. An English farmer (Ralph Ineson) is banished from his colonial plantation, forced to relocate his wife (Game Of Thrones’ Katie Dickie) and five children to a plot on the edge of a wood. But when the crops start failing soon after they’ve settled and their newborn son mysteriously disappears, the grief-stricken family begins to turn on one another and the bond unravels amid suspicion, paranoia and anxiety... and an evil in the woods.
While witches have always had their place in horror, Robert Eggers’ feature debut breathes a much-desired freshness into the modern witch horror film, not just with its moody New England-set folktale polestar, but also through the familiarity of the horror genre’s long-lost classic tropes.
Laying its folklore foundations early on, it leaves no stone unturned in its earnest portrayal of the Puritan period, offering a history lesson into the movement’s hegemonic ethos and a wide window into the very real and prolific suspicions surrounding Satanism and witchcraft.
A lot of that, alongside production and costume design (Eggers’ roots), seeps through the dialogue – compiled using (credited) real historical documents and true accounts (Eggers spent his four-year search for financing wisely), and for the most part credible in its delivery thanks to strong performances across the board. (Kudos, particularly, to young Harvey Scrimshaw for his convincing, dread-filled performance and Atlantis’ Anya Taylor-Joy for her more challengingly-toned role.)
The Witch takes its time, and that’s very much to its credit. It’s an instinctively slow build, a meandering mystery that shows you enough to stay informed and intrigued, yet relies more on suggestion than substantiality. It guides you one way without slamming the door on ambiguity altogether, and walks that tough tightrope admirably.
The intensely moody atmosphere never loses its momentum; it’s unsettling at every turn and chilling to the core, although not without the audacity to stir you from that sleepy dreamlike hollow with a few effective jump scares and horrifying moments of hysteria.
The exquisitely shot, bleak and isolated wilderness gives you nowhere to hide, while the dramatically weeping, dread-instilling strings – unashamedly The Shining-esque in its delivery and integral to the film’s knack for getting under your skin – provides the perfect accompaniment to uphold its with-tension-comes-terror ambition.
Well-crafted, well-acted and as pleasingly genre-shaking as last year’s It Follows, The Witch started making waves after its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival last year and will no doubt come out the other side as one of the genre’s true cult classics. A smart, tangible and unnerving flick, it’s sure to leave a bit of itself on you for days (no, weeks) after you’ve stumbled out of the cinema car park.