Admittedly creepy and more than a touch disconcerting, this directorial debut from one Robert Eggers is an odd watch. The folk-tale look and horror aspects work from time to time but the story is ridden with questions and splinters like a witch’s broomstick by the end.
In 17th century New England, a family are banished from a plantation and must learn to live on a patch of land near the entrance of a forest. This gathering of trees hides a most sinister presence though; a witch who takes the family’s new born baby and begins posing more doubts and fateful decisions as the days tick away.
Without any spoilers, because this film deserves to be seen without much prior knowledge, this is a plot that bubbles and boils on the suspicions of who to trust and who may indeed be a or the witch. Robert Eggers also writes this witchy horror and does so in a really neat way that showcases his potential as a master of suspense. The story, specifically in the first half has a true feeling of unease as we get to know the family and see the dark elements of the forest start to manifest.
Eggers certainly makes this movie a thoughtful one; as I’m sure that a lot of people exiting the film will be asking and probably unanswering questions as to what they just saw. The numerous still shots, close ups and thematic connections of nature come together in a cauldron of slow-building tension and that’s the strongest aspect of this feature.
Also, Jarin Blaschke makes this film look incredible. The detail in the house or the rot of the crops give this setting a wholly realistic edge, which only makes the more supernatural elements feel more alarming. Cinematography wise, this horror stands out as how beautiful films can look and especially for this genre, it gives me hope that maybe more horror movies will try something different and not rely on jump scares, which this thankfully plays with and doesn’t.
On another positive, ‘The Witch’ or vvitch as it reads, stands out thanks to the music, Mark Korven doesn’t provide the expected brooding score but one that appears then floats away or chimes in loudly for one bone-rattling sound. This playing around with sound and horror conventions of score is nice to hear, though on the flip side it does waft as well and perhaps not hit as dramatically as it may have done.
This is a movie that really strikes me because it makes me want to learn more, I’d like to know more about the director’s intentions and choices, the filming process and behind the scenes larks. Because perhaps annoyingly, there’s never a definitive answer as to what madness is ensuing and with all this trialling of being something deep and dreadful, the plot loses a connection, the first witch we see is all but left as we see more experimental filming come to the fore.
I must say that the young actors stole the show in this film. Harvey Scrimshaw (which sounds like a Harry Potter name), is brilliant as Caleb. He plays a hint of incestual but is a typically good kid who then breaks free performing darker, manipulated scenes fantastically. Creepy twins get the box ticked by Ellie Granger and Lucas Dawson who end up being a big question but in terms of their acting, they are excitedly twisted. Anya Taylor-Joy is captivating in a pure way, her white costume and innocent look become more shaded as the film goes on. It’s a gritty role that gets into your bones and Taylor-Joy plays this questionable heroine very very well.
It is easy to see why people view this as a boring film, it takes a long time and doesn’t answer questions or build to much of anything. That said, even with the more clichéd ending and broken plot this one hell of a disturbing film that benefits without knowing much about it before watching.