Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Witch (2016): Review

The Witch is a 2016 period horror film. The directorial debut of Robert Egger, the film stars Ralph Ineson (The Office), Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Dickie (Prometheus, Filth).  The film is based on historical accounts and folklore from the time and was endorsed and promoted by the Satanic Temple.

Set in 17th Century colonial America, the film begins with William (Ineson) and his family being exiled from their own community for being excessively puritanical. They end up founding their own farmstead at the edge of a dense wood. William’s wife Katherine (Dickie) gives birth to a baby boy, in addition to their twins, young son Caleb and teenage daughter Thomasin (Taylor-Joy). However, things take a turn for the worst when the baby is snatched by the witch in the woods and the family is thrown into turmoil. To make matters worse, Caleb also goes missing in the woods and is returned with a terrible fever and the family soon start to suspect Thomasin as the witch. Confounded by an assortment of devilish animals, including family goat “Black Phillip”, the family are tormented and torn apart by the phantom in the woods as their faith in God is stretched to the limit.

From the opening shots of The Witch, it’s clear that this is going to be an incredibly visual film and this only intensifies as you’re drawn deeper into the world. The overhead shots are creeping and the interior shots are claustrophobic, this is pure Kubrick and shows an impressive command of the screen for a first time director. What’s also interesting is the decision to linger on black after certain cuts for longer than usual just to ramp up the tension even more. The score is terrifying and the use of ghostly choirs and discordant strings amplifies the dread and atmosphere to almost unbearable levels at times.

The film owes a lot to The Wicker Man (1974) as well as the more recent A Field in England (2012), not just in its allusion to pagan rituals and Witchcraft, but also in the way that it’s a horror film much more in style than in its content or plot. Eggers touches the cornerstones of the genre without ever being sucked into the clichés and tropes as you might expect from the title and marketing of the film. I’m always a sucker for period horror and the setting of New England during the “witch trials” period is always worth revisiting. To enhance this,  Eggers authentic script is beautifully written and fantastically delivered (most often through Inesons unmistakable tones).

The Witch may buckle under its own hype at times, but it never breaks, standing out as a stark and original piece that betrays it’s bog standard horror marketing campaign. A painfully slow pace may turn some off and perhaps it suffers from style over substance at times but give it a few days and you’ll find the bleak imagery and heavy themes remain under the skin. The Witch is a breath of fresh air for fans of both horror and art house cinema and aims to unsettle and unnerve rather than to scare. Also features the best performance by a goat this side of Drag me to Hell (2009).

**** 4 Stars

What did you think of the Witch? Did it live up to the hype?


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