The Witch, directed by Robert Eggers, is a film with a distressing atmosphere. Under the fearful and unbending love of God, this is a film that unsettles with its simpler times; sounds that unease you, scenes that disturb you, and a seemingly inevitable downfall of all, makes this a film that controls your every moment of watching it. I’m looking forward to breaking down the many complicated facets of, The Witch so let’s get that underway.
The story in ‘The Witch’ takes place in 1630’s New England where a family have been banished from their town and left to survive on their own in the wilderness. However, something dark and unholy resides in the woods; it isn’t long before its evil grasp begins to reach out and start tearing down the family from the inside.
With ‘The Witch’, one thing is doesn’t let you forget, is that there is a threat out there, something evil and powerful, and how it keeps you always worrying about that threat is through an atmosphere that always seems moments from going off. Once the family has left their town behind and headed out into the wilderness, I don’t think there is ever a moment where you’ll feel fully at ease. That constant in the film means you are always fully attentive to the events unfolding; a snap of a twig, something possibly lurking in the background of a scene, or a decision to go deep into the woods. ‘The Witch’ is a masterclass in atmospheric conditioning.
Another way the film keeps you on edge and engaged is through its use of music and general sound. Starting off with the music: there is a chilling assault of a violin that has you uncomfortable and wanting to hide behind anything, in-case something jumps out. Meanwhile a rising assortment of instruments builds tension and worry, during what should be safer times. Once again it is a masterclass in how to keep your audience members floating between ease-of-mind and overwhelming worry.
But it’s not only the music, as sound in general plays such a key part, not only in those tense moments of fear but also in the more dramatic of moments when events have escalated. There is a chilling-ness to how the film sounds; a whimpering dog, a severely sick child whose actions are unsettling. Your ears play such an important role in the experience of this film. Hearing things makes your imagination go into overdrive, you begin to imagine the worst, and then just as things seem like they’re about to pop off, it cuts to another scene. The film builds you up, baits you, and then continues on with the film. It’s smart; the film makes you your own worst enemy, while it continues with the film.
Speaking of the events of the film, there are of course characters that are in the middle of all this torment, let’s explore them a little. Thomasin – played by Anya Taylor-Joy – I guess could be considered the main character of the film, though almost all of the characters (of which there are a total of 6) have as fleshed out of an arc as she does, but for the sake of structuring this review, I’ll say she’s the main character. So ‘Thomasin’ is an interesting character as she is a victim of the saying, ‘Wrong place, wrong time’. Due to her unfortunate luck (or lack thereof) this is a character who only we know the truth of, and so when events begin to unfold – and not in her favour – she is certainly the person that the audience can connect with most, but then interestingly, we can technically sympathise with all the characters in the film as they are all victims to a cruel game that they are unaware they’re in the middle of.
The great thing as a watcher of this film is that we (for the most part) are aware of whom or what is causing the terrible events that are unfolding, and one of the prime suspects in it all is the family’s minds. This is a downfall, we watch as this family begins to turn on each other and begin to suspect that one, if not all are corrupted by the ways of Satin. It doesn’t take much for them to turn on each another, but to watch it then happen is where the real horror of the film comes out. Seeing a mother turn on her daughter, seeing siblings accuse one another, this is where the sadness and awfulness thrives.
It also must be stated that the actors in this film do an absolutely faultless job of portraying their characters. In particular, Harvey Scrimshaw – who plays Caleb in the film – he delivers a performance of a brave little boy who more than holds his own. But yes, everyone in this film delivers performances that are fraught with emotion and intensity.
But I want to return to how the downfall of the family is the true horror within this film as it helps highlight how ‘The Witch’ stands-out from other films in the genre. I went into this film expecting a run-of-the-mill horror film about a witch and all the tedious jump scares that she can throw at the characters. What I got instead was a smart, psychological film, where it not only deceives the characters and plays upon their expectations but it also plays upon the audience’s expectations. In the place of cliché story-telling and jump scares every few minutes is a film that uses the pre-determinations of the audience to keep you on edge and to also deliver a contained story about how the characters themselves are the real threat.
Which this all then leads into one of the most unsettling aspects of the film, which is that it was based on real journals and other documents from the time. Actual first-hand accounts were used in writing this film. This is something that is revealed to you after the film is finished; something about that just really unsettled me. Even after the film had ended, it was still giving me the creeps. Now if that isn’t a successful horror film, I don’t know what is.
‘The Witch’ is one of those films that comes along and completely surprises you. As I already said, I expected this to be a generic horror film (even with the hype that had been built around it by other people) and so was pleased to get another gem of a horror film; that’s now, ‘The Babadook’, ‘It Follows’ (my personal favourite film of 2015) and now ‘The Witch’. If we continue to get more horror films like these, then the genre might see a larger resurgence in quality (hopefully).
I am definitely recommending ‘The Witch’. This is one of those films that catches you off guard (in more than one way) and offers up something really memorable.
What did you think of ‘The Witch’? Let me know in the comments down-below. If you’d like to be kept up-to-date on my other ramblings, perhaps follow this blog directly or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle. Thank you for taking the time to read this, I truly do appreciate it!