Slow and steady wins the race here as The Witch is more psychological horror than anything that could be considered run-of-the-mill. As much as this is about an actual witch it’s just as much about the idea of a witch whether one is actually terrorizing this family or not. The very idea of the possibility is enough to tear them apart. Paranoia is the true villain as mysterious occurrences plague a family whose existence is by the grace of God and their humility toward Him. When horrible things transpire they believe that their faith as a family has waivered which creates a chasm of hatred and distrust. This is the true horror. A family divided by things beyond their comprehension surrounded by a thicket of not only trees but complete solitude. And in that isolation they have no one else but one another to project their own fears onto. With no viable solutions, an escalation of events leads to an outcome beyond understanding.
This story excels at creating slow, tension-filled scenarios that without warning explode into moments of pure shock. Both visually and musically arresting, this is a tale meant to create constant unease. The shocking imagery makes the audience wince as the music elevates with seemingly random, jarring noises. While this is without question not a typical horror film, if you can notice the nuances of everything from the setting to the actors and even the smallest of story details you will gain an appreciation for one of the best films so far of 2016. I’ll go so far as to say this will be one of the best horror films that will release this year.
With a cast on the smaller side, this “family” must rely on one another to carry each scene no matter how bizarre things may become. In many ways this is more of a drama about shattered trust and the devastation that follows when the foundation of family is destroyed. In their peril they would normally turn to one another but as their suspicion of each other grows their loneliness is only compounded until absolute hysteria plagues their every waking moment.
The Witch had my interest from the very first mention of it. I heard about its production, what the style of the film would be like, and when the first trailer premiered I was on board. This created an intrigue in me similar to The Babadook and even It Follows. There was an obvious apprehension to the mundanity of modern horror films and the creators of these horror masterpieces (Yes, masterpieces) sought to bring the audiences, the fans of horror, something great and unexpected. While elements of these films aren’t always 100% original, they are executed and placed in such a way that gives a much needed breath of fresh air to a dusty and tired formula that is for some reason composed mostly of cheap jump scares and bad acting.
Acting in a horror film…
For some reason acting always seems to come second in the horror genre… or third or fourth and sometimes not even at all. What films like The Babadook and Goodnight Mommy show us is that no matter the amount of blood and gore and shock value a film may possess, there is no real substitute for great acting. A strong performance can bring the realism to an otherwise ridiculous premise and bring validity to it. A truly outlandish premise can still create an air of believability if the acting is strong and the cast trust their performances will not be looked passed as unimportant. The performances in The Witch are haunting, disturbing, and all the while, heartbreaking. This family yearns for an explanation for the misfortune that has befallen them and when no comfort is found in the silence as their prayers fall on deaf ears, they are broken into a mess of strangers among those they love most. These performances are the heart and soul of this film and each actor brings something intangible that would seriously hinder the quality of this film had they not been present.
With these strong performances, the film is also rife with tremendous cinematography as the woods of early New England seem to tower over this family like a formidable army of bloodthirsty giants that has surrounded them and is slowly moving in for the kill. There is no real color palette as the visuals are predominantly gray and brown. I believe this is a way to convey the hopelessness of their deteriorating situation. The visuals however stark are none the less striking and noticeable.
I hope this trend of quality horror continues and a new age of brilliantly dramatic, well-acted, perfectly paced horror becomes the new normal. This is a film for the horror lovers who not only want the blood and gore and scares but the quality to go along with it. This isn’t for everyone but I have to recommend it regardless and I hope you can experience this like I did, with open eyes and hope that the film is going to surpass expectations. The Witch is a puritanical nightmare of the highest order and deserves to be called one of the best modern horror films of the last decade.
Rated R For: disturbing violent content and graphic nudity
Runtime: 92 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Horror, Drama, Mystery
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Directed By: Robert Eggers
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 4.5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 5
OVERALL: 5 Nerdskulls
Check out the trailer below:
Check out this interview from VICE with the director of The Witch:
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