A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Directed By: Robert Eggers
Written By: Robert Eggers
Produced By: Rodrigo Teixeira, Daniel Bekerman, Lars Knudsen
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw
Running Time: 93 Minutes
With another addition to the list of wonderful debut features to be released as of late, Robert Eggers, winner of Best Director at Sundance creates a chilling suspenseful tale of deceit, faith, disturbance and mystery, all under the ominous presence of a supernatural being.
A horror film that disobeys convention for the most part, The Witch possesses an uncomfortable undercurrent that flows beneath its colourless surface, rather than assaulting the senses with predictable, flashy and impotent jump scares.
In an age where the horror genre is facing a sizeable shift into the realm of cheap and nasty parody, it’s refreshing to see films that celebrate the true art of horror filmmaking and how profound it’s stories can be.
Through the balanced use of metaphor, suggestion and ambiguity, films such as The Witch hint at something more than what is presented at face value, which is a blessing for audiences who are growing tired of the formulaic horror pictures of today. It’s a bold debut from Eggers, but it has paid off significantly.
Possessing a tonal and loose thematic likeness to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Eggers’ The Witch takes place in 17th century New England and focuses on an exiled family who’s deep religious beliefs are deemed excessive by members of the Puritan Christian plantation. Like the Westboro Baptist Church of yesteryear, William (Ralph Ineson) and his family are fall heavily out of favour and as a result are excommunicated for their “prideful conceit”.
Now forced to live in isolation aside mysterious forestation, the story follows the family as a series of inexplicable events take place, building suspicion of a paranormal presence in the woods.
Although the plot appears rather derivative, The Witch offers a different approach in craft and progression of its otherwise rather common story.
With the assistance of a perfectly eery score by Mark Korven and beautifully ominous cinematography captured by Jarin Blaschke, the film has a unique atmosphere and tonal pulse unlike any other supernatural horror film that springs to mind. Eggers adopts the less-is-more approach and balances the tension brilliantly as a result.
Cleverly keeping the unknown presence in the dark so that the audience can manifest an individualised representation of their greatest fears is a quality possessed and harnessed by an acute director, of which Eggers is undoubtedly one. The style of the film is a wonderful match of rough and joyless desaturation, with the ever-present threat of bloody violence and hysteria.
For a slow-burning picture, The Witch possesses some truly heart-pounding moments of suspense, hinting at something that is objectively scary, but remaining focused enough not to reveal it too early and fall into convention.
The setting of the film provides an element of believability and unease, particularly from the unrelenting focus on scripture, character beliefs and the aforementioned tone. The dialogue is mostly taken from records of the time, injecting some authenticity into the otherwise fanciful tale of supernatural entities and spook stories.
Moreover, the isolation, the limited cast and the claustrophobic tension felt throughout the film as the pressure builds spotlights exactly what the film is truly about.
Ultimately, The Witch is not a fast-paced slasher about a rampaging, man eating beast in the woods, in fact it’s not primarily about a witch at all. It’s a film about one’s faith and how one’s perception of faith can ultimately lead to their downfall.
The presence of the witch is felt throughout the entire picture, however if it were to be removed, the film’s unfolding wouldn’t change all that much. The film is truly about a seemingly stable family falling apart from the inside due to their own beliefs.
Where some audiences will be disappointed by The Witch, others will breathe a sigh of relief knowing there directors who appreciate and understand the genre of horror, how it’s advancing and how to create a classically inspired thriller in an age where most audiences are completely desensitised.
Not surprisingly, Eggers understands what makes a good horror picture and also realises that over the past several decades, it hasn’t changed all that much. The fundamental element of the horror genre is the fear of the unknown, and the way in which Eggers cleverly utilises this imperative element to his advantage should have many audiences excited to see what he can conjure up next.