The Witch online movie review - "The Witch"- A haunting and complex fable.
One of the most complex and haunting films to emerge within the past decade, writer/director Robert Eggers' "The Witch" is a troubling fable of religion and fanaticism expertly combined with the trappings of a classic horror story of witchcraft and savagery.
Though perhaps misrepresented by a marketing campaign billing it is a straight- forward creepshow for the masses, the truth is that this is a hard-hitting and expertly crafted art-film, and is a rewarding and startling experience that will leave the open minded breathless. It is without doubt not a film for everyone, and its appeal will be limited... but this cannot detract from the fact that it is a masterpiece from a brilliant new voice in film.
New England. The 17th Century. A family is excommunicated from their Puritanical plantation home due to their extreme and fanatical religious views that conflict with the establishment of their peers. Father William (Ralph Ineson) helps his flock to build and craft a new home on the edge of a vast forest, where he hopes to create a new life for his family- wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), twins Mercy and Jones (Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson) and infant son Samuel. However, not all is well. The disappearance of Samuel while playing with Thomasin causes an emotional rift within the family, tensions begin to run high due to the circumstances of their situation, mistrusts and deceits are slowly born and will push their limits of their devotion to one another and to god... and it soon becomes apparent that an otherworldly force may be at play... that a witch of the woods may be silently stalking the family.
The film is Kubrickian in nature, relying on the slow and methodical establishment of character and atmosphere combined with complex metaphors and symbols to create a masterwork of terror and drama. It is a finely tuned experience, relying on the subtle and the suggestive as opposed to the overt and blatant. Rewarding the analytical and open among audiences, Eggers excels in his craft, building the narrative slowly and with great deliberation while constantly developing and evolving his characters. And while it may seem counter-intuitive, the film is oddly enough at its strongest not when delivering the plethora of chilling sequences and scares that are abundant. But rather, the film is at its strongest when it places its focus on the collapsing nature of the family unit, torn apart by their own doubt and devotion to their obsessive beliefs... even at the expense of logic, reason and safety. Though don't be fooled... this is still very much a frightening film, with many terrifying moments thanks to the disturbing portrayal of witchcraft and savagery. It just also happens to be a very thoughtful, contemplative and complicated film that does great work with its themes, and can be interpreted in a number of ways.
The performances are just marvelous and are the other main contributing factor to the film's great success when combined with Eggers' masterful writing and direction. Anya Taylor-Joy stands tall in a breakout performance in the role of Thomasin, who becomes our main focus early on. Taylor-Joy is a revelation and despite her relatively young age, injects complexity, doubt and pathos into the role in a way that is beyond her years. Incredible work. Ralph Ineson is the other stand- out here, as the increasingly troubled William. Ineson plays the character as hopeful but increasingly haunted by his own faith, and it's a stirring and emotional performance. Dickie makes for another great character as Katherine, and she is the perfect compliment to Thomasin and William within the story. I also will give high markings to child-actor Harvey Scrimshaw as the young Caleb. Child actors are a tough sell much of the time, but Scrimshaw (similar to Taylor-Joy) seems to possess a talent that far exceeds expectation and does the role justice.
To be honest, I cannot say a single thing to the detriment of the film. But I do feel the need to stress something I touched upon in the beginning. This is not a standard horror flick, and many have felt let-down and deceived by the admittedly poor marketing created for the film's release. The film was touted as "scary" and "creepy" and "something we should not be seeing" in a trailer filled with loud music stingers and many of the film's scares, suggesting a more straight-forward experience. This is not a horror film for the masses. This is not the sort-of movie a group of 17-year-olds will go to on a Friday night and feel fulfilled by. This is very much an art- picture. A movie that encourages thought and personal interpretation. And I think that far too many have dismissed it unfairly for failing to adhere to its poor marketing, as opposed to embracing it for what it actually is. To an extent, I understand feeling duped. And I'm not even a pretentious art-type. I love the "Saw" movies more than most. I get kicks out of brainless schlock like Stephen Sommers' "Van Helsing" and screwball comedies like "Brain Donors." And I think "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" isn't nearly as bad as everyone makes it out to be. But you know what? I also appreciate true art. I adore it and embrace it and celebrate it. And "The Witch" is art at its purest. And I firmly believe it is unfair to condemn the film because the trailer wasn't the best representation of it.
I give "The Witch" a perfect 10. It is not only amongst the best horror films of the decade. It is simply amongst the best films of the decade, regardless of genre.