The setting is New England and the year is 1630. William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) lead a pure, difficult yet Christian life devout to the Church as God’s followers. Everything they do is in the name of the Holy Father. They have been banished to live on the edge of a bleak wilderness with five children to cater for. When their newborn son suddenly vanishes without question and their crops die, the family begins to blame each other for the sudden failure and the misdemeanours life has thrown at them. Family and faith is what pushes this film and it shows you how the family unit helps each other in its successes but how quickly people can change when their safety is threatened, even if it is by your own flesh and blood. People do strange things when they’re scared and it’s evident in ‘The Witch’.
The man of the house, so to speak is William played by Ralph Ineson (Game Of Thrones, Harry Potter). He’s very connected to his faith and his beliefs were even thought to be too radical for his fellow Puritan, English colonists. These Puritans were religious fanatics themselves and he was more fanatical than they were. William, his beliefs and his family are banished from the town and make their way into the unknown with everything they own strapped to an unstable wagon. Soon, they find a bit of land on an edge of dark mysterious forest, but as Eggers’ camera gazes onto the land, it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t your textbook building plot.
Anya Taylor Joy (Atlantis) is a relatively new face on our screens and she plays the eldest child, Thomasin. She is in a crossfire between the welfare of her kin, her identity as a young lady on the verge of breaching womanhood and the position her father has put them in, due to a man’s need to be macho and proud. Men are always out to prove how masculine they are and it’s always their pride that puts them and their loved ones at risk as we see in this movie, through petty things like lying and being deceitful. One day, she is playing peek-a-boo with her ver young infant brother. They’re playing nicely and he disappears right in front of her. The audience sees a shady figure running off into the forest with the baby. Eggers has been very clever and he’s put the audience in the position of the child, as we see things from the baby’s point-of-view; a very intelligent use of camera use if there ever was one.We see things from the baby’s perspective as Thomasin’s face drops from happiness to despair and fear in a matter of seconds.
Her brother has been abducted in front of her and there’s nothing she can do about it. The family doesn’t know who took their baby and this is the first example of the family unit showing signs destruction. From this point, I felt an aura of distrust like there was an elephant in the room. Thomasin isn’t accused to begin with but as things get worse for the family, she becomes an easy target. Tensions are high, blood is boiling and everyone is stressed. This is mainly her mother Katherine (Kate Dickie), pointing the finger of blame at her. She plays the weak, fragile and mentally unstable Katherine. She’s also quite creepy with a hooked nose. You’d even think she was a witch. In ‘The Witch’ she plays a character uncanny to her Game Of Thrones role of Lysa Arryn, except this time she isn’t breastfeeding a ten-year old boy. Thomasin’s twin siblings also begin hurling accusations that their sister is a witch. Twins in any horror flick creep me out. This dynamic duo is no different, though not so blissful as Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver, nor is one full of holes. Oh, you didn’t see that coming?
Thomasin’s other brother, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), is closer in age to her than those evil twins. He is beginning to feel the effects of adolescents and with no other girls around, he begins to feel certain things for his sister, if you catch my drift. He’s a teenage boy and teenage boy’s minds are only ever on one thing. He lives by a wood with his family and there aren’t any other girls around for miles. This introduces an unnerving arc between him and his sister. Because of the R-Rating, I thought they might have taken a few pages out of Game Of Thrones’ book with Jaime and Cersei Lannister. After all, their perversions did begin when they were about that age. This attraction adds a weird dynamic to the household on top everyone thinking Thomasin is a witch. She does her utmost to keep the family together but no matter how hard she tries, she just looks guilty. My mind takes me back to the cinema when she tries to milk a goat but all that comes out is blood or when she cracks an egg, and a dead bird is inside. Images like this will haunt you in your dreams and Eggers has portrayed these so well. It’s truly chilling.
Much alike Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, audiences may find the language used in this movie incredibly challenging due to the archaisms and obsolete words that are used amidst uses of the modern tongue. With the language used and the aura Eggers has created,? it gave me a feel of coldness like I’d never feel happy again. Watching ‘The Witch’ is uncanny to being in an everlasting sleep with only a dementor for company. They use a fair few thees and thous as well speaking in riddles too. They may seem like riddles to some but they’re only metaphors and you have to look outside of the box and not take them too literally to grasp their meaning.The more conventional horror movies are filled with predictability and jump scares. This is not. This is an indie horror movie made by Europeans in Europe without the meddling hands of Hollywood. Films like this are made for the sheer creep-factor not to scare you out of your seats. It’s more about feeling scared during and sometime after the movie than being scared temporarily, as we see with the conventional horror movies. This is a creepy period horror tale and not for the meek. We don’t see the witch much at all but Eggers has still made me feel creeped out. I haven’t seen a horror movie this good in years,? especially when my screening is pitch black and I’m the only one in the room.
I think it’s an intentional irony that Eggers has elected to use goats and rabbits in this movie. Witches in this time were considered pagan and satanic. Satanism is the root of many horror movies of this nature. The goat and the rabbit are seen to represent fertility in many cultures and faiths. I think it’s meant to be seen as a sadistic joke that these animals present despite the children being picked off one by one by this witch. You have put all this work into raising a family but then they’re taken away from their parents in a matter of days. Furthermore, the Horned Goat is the sign of Capricorn and synonymous with Satan, but as Christian symbol it means those who are cut off from God and something demonic or evil. I must say that I found Eggers’ hidden joke quite amusing. I did suffer a chuckle despite its morbidity.
The cinematography in this film is very basic but they make good use of shadow and I really liked the scenes filmed at night including the revealing of the witch. This is how horror should be done. It should be done very simply, mainly pushed along with acting and story but very little SFX/VFX. Use the natural light and don’t bombard audiences with CGI. All the performances in the movie hold up well, from the small roles to the heads of the household and even to the goat, Black Phillip. He’s the family goat who I believe was in league with the witch from the beginning.
Taylor-Joy stands out as the young damsel in distress girl but she soon realizes nobody is coming to save her and she must do what’s necessary to save herself. She slowly goes mad like her mother and is forced to commit matricide. But I think the family was truly doomed even before they were banished. They had ideologies forced on them from the days that they were born due to the society they were a part of. It was social peer pressure to be righteous, pure and a follower of the Christian faith. You must be true to God in the way that everyone else is true to God. If you don’t do this, you will ousted. Everyone must think the same way to abide by the status quo. William defied this rule and was banished. He defied the common ideologies. This is a way of thinking that would be accepted these days but back then, everyone being the same is what was necessary. People fear what they don’t understand. Society has changed but people haven’t.
The real demon wasn’t the witch in this movie, although she was presented as the main antagonist. I believe the main villains are every human has the ability to be. There’s a beast in every man, woman and child. Everyone has the potential to be good or evil, hero or villain, witch or puritan. We see this in all the characters in this movie. Evil isn’t born, it’s made. The same goes for being good. You become good or evil from the influences around you and the scenarios that you are subjected to. This is an excellent movie and I believe more movies of this calibur need to be made in the future. It’s one of the best horror movies since Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
This movie will haunt you in your dreams