The Witch (2015)
“The evil is closer to home than you think…but you will have to wait for it.”
“The Witch” is a new horror movie by director/writer Robert Eggers. Hailed as unconventional, but totally haunting and compelling by critics, it tells the story of a family of seven living in 1630s in New England. The family leaves their community to pursue independent living, but find a lot of hardship along the way, largely caused by supernatural powers. Although the picture has tons of things to brag about, its muddy premise, that largely relies on borrowed ideas, and unexciting horror thrills, make the movie a cinematic experience that is unconvincing and unsatisfying, although very admirable in its realism, style and presentation.
First of all, the good things about “The Witch”. It will not appeal to “conventional” horror fans, but this is where one of its assets lies. Shot in grim colours, the movie is a visually impressive exercise of patience and attention as viewers immerse themselves into creepy woodland haunted by dark spirits/minds. This is a movie which is breathtaking in its visualisation and excellent in its execution. From accents to costumes, “The Witch” is immaculate in setting the scene, in creating the atmosphere. There are innocent children playing in the foreground, while the evil minds are already positioning themselves somewhere in the background. The director knows how to create a sense of apprehension and fear, and a wonderful soundtrack helps the movie along. The young cast is really impressive: Anya Taylor-Joy is our main heroine – Thomasin, who, together with her on-screen brother, Harvey Scrimshaw – Caleb, tries desperately to get hold of things before they spin out of control. Their on-screen parents, William and Katherine, played by Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, are equally good, and it is terrifying to watch their reactions to imaginable and unimaginable happenings.
However, unfortunately, the grim atmosphere and the snail-moving, thought-provoking sequence are not quite enough to make a great movie. It would have been interesting to comment on how “The Witch” deals with its main premise – witchcraft, but the upshot is that the film does not handle the topic of witchcraft at all. All the movie does is to lightly cruise on the issue, providing two to three scary moments associated with the movie title, and delivering the on-the-topic, but disappointingly unimaginative final scene. It is not that the movie lacks substance – it has some; it is just that it does not explore anything in great depth. Leaving more and more questions open as the movie drags along, “The Witch” becomes bewildering to watch, no matter how impressed one becomes by all the artful display.
The problem with this film also lies elsewhere. “The Witch” is torn between two competing scenarios: on the one hand, it does not want to let go of the “Other” lurking in the woods, but, on the other hand, it wants to concentrate on the family’s social isolation and its decent into a religion-driven madness. It must surely settle for something if it strives to be comprehensive. And even if the movie does want to be nothing more than an artfully presented, thought-provoking, slow-burning horror, arguably, it is nowhere near providing a rewarding, intelligent and realistic finale in tune with all of its realistic and clever presentation. The real action starts about ten minutes before the end credits roll in, but it may be already too late for any horror-enjoyment gasps.
The diversity of horror themes touched upon in this movie is equally confusing. If we want a visually-stunning village murder mystery, why not settle for Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow” (1999) instead? If we agree on possession and exorcism, why not just choose Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” (1973)? Strange pagan rituals could be provided for by Hardy’s “The Wicker Man” (1973); and if we want to immerse ourselves in a nature-set discussion on the Devil and women, we can just settle for Lars von Trier’s thought-provoking “Antichrist” (2009). In terms of its bewildering success among critics, “The Witch” can only be compared to “The Cabin in the Woods” (2012), whose clever play on familiar themes was strangely appealing to critics.
Overall, eerie and realistically shot, “The Witch” excels in its execution and unusual style presentation, but its substance/premise (reduced to a few pivotal moments in the film) is painfully unclear and chaotic, leaving one to deal with an unsatisfying and disappointing finale. 6/10