Rating: B+/ The Witch is a good example of a film you should go into blind, knowing next to nothing about it’s story. It’s a bit of a slow burn, definitely not for everyone, though those with the patience to soldier through it’s sluggish bits will be rewarded by the film’s eerie, cynical conclusion. In 1630’s New England, a dysfunctional puritan brood, led by the devoutly Christian William (Ralph Ineson) eke out an existence in the middle of fucking nowhere, shortly after leaving their home village due to religious differences with the town elders. No sooner are they living off the grid, so to speak, than the infant son of William and his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) vanishes seemingly into thin air while their teen daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy) is watching him, and some weird shit starts going down in the woods surrounding their small farmstead.
Tempers rise, suspicions are raised, and witchcraft is sorely suspected. For a family for whom the answer to everything is sought in the form of prayer or the pages of the family Bible, they’re completely out of their element when some good old-fashioned Satanism is thrown into the mix. Panicking, they turn against each other like rabid dogs, but what is the malevolent force in the heart of the woods’ ultimate endgame? In this unholy scenario, you better hope you die quickly, because the survivors who might make it through the horror face a fate far worse than a gory, untimely demise.
The Witch is not very scary by way of leaping out of your skin at jarring shocks and sudden creepy noises but it is very unsettling… and definitely intriguing. In a day and age where most horror movies are alarmingly generic, The Witch offers something you haven’t seen before. It reminds me a bit of a more straightforward, less unhinged Antichrist; both films involve the regrettable fate of an infant, an atmospheric spot of utmost seclusion, and animals acting in a way that animals certainly should not act. Despite (or maybe even because) of it’s failure to sink to the levels of depravity and obscurity of Lars Von Trier’s controversial motion picture, The Witch is a more palatable experience, though it’s still a twisted little project and certainly not one to watch with your conservative Baptist Grandma.
The actors all do an amazing job, including the kids, as the family’s devout beliefs are challenged in the face of insurmountable struggle. Moody and uncanny as a dream you struggle to recall upon waking, The Witch has razor-sharp direction and cinematography going for it. The characters are hard to dismiss and hard to root for; extremely flawed people upheld as they are unhinged by their extreme religious faith. Whether or not you are believer, an atheist, or something in between, most people can agree that this unquestioning devotion and the self-flagellation that accompanies that blind faith is not a healthy thing.
As is, the otherworldly tormentor of this God-fearing little family is often mentioned but rarely shown, and the heart of the movie is the perverse fascination we have with watching the brood tear itself apart from the inside out. It’s in many ways a family drama with supernatural/occult implications, until the balls-out crazy conclusion, which will leave you ruminating on everything you’ve just seen.
While most horror movies are moronically straight forward (college kids get chased by killer, college kids get dismembered by killer in creative ways, killer and final girl survive to return for sequel, to name one of the many tropes,) The Witch will vex those looking for a more run-of-the-mill, clear cut fright flick. But for those of us that like horror films that cut to the heart of things, possessing a dreamlike creepiness and stillness that creeps stagnant over a truly haunted landscape, The Witch is the movie for you. Shattering taboos and taking no prisoners, this film has a kind of uncanny that settles over the audience, and although it’s not a scary film per se, it’s a fearlessly unique one that, for better or worse, will stick with the viewer long after watching.