THE WITCH Fantastic Fest Movie Review
In this modern world of storytelling and the epic nature that it often seems to require, the idea that a simple folk tale would come and turn the horror genre on its head seems ludicrous. Yet, that’s just what young director Roger Eggers has done on his directorial debut The Witch. The New England folk tale tells a simple story, but is delivered in a way that makes this one of the more unsettling horror films to come out in years. This kind of evolution away from what has become the status quo in horror is a breath of fresh air. A really creepy breath of fresh air.
Set in the 1630s, a Puritan family is banished to the New England wilderness where they are forced to fend for themselves. For the most part all seems well despite their troubles when one day, under the care of oldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the youngest mysteriously disappears without a trace. Soon after their crops wither and die. As more and more misfortune falls upon the family, they begin to believe they’ve been cursed or are in the presence of evil of some kind. Some of this blame even falling on Thomasin.
For that simple of a plot, there are many layers of this story to explore, and The Witch brilliantly only feeds you a little bit of information at a time, and subplot after subplot are peeled away like an onion. You learn what’s going on as the family does, and thus you experience it in a similar way. Because of that, it might be a little too slowly paced for some viewers, but it’s worth the pace to be able to experience the kind of dread that is ever present throughout along with the family.
Where The Witch excels is in the atmosphere that’s created. There is a great mix of terrifying unknowingness along with the blind faith in God that this family is using to cope with the disasters falling upon them, and it’s all anchored by some terrific performances. William, played by Ralph Ineson as the father of the family is constantly amazing and has a voice that will resonate in your mind long after you’ve seen The Witch. Anya Taylor-Joy portrayal of innocence throughout is one of the better performances you’ll see in a horror film lead in a while.
The Witch will challenge you. It’s not an easy film to watch, and it being called The Witch will only serve to make a lot of people think it’s a more fast paced, conventional, horror film than it is. Instead, think of The Witch as a descent into divine misfortune. One could even argue that the idea of what we now know as the phenomenon of demonic possession could have evolved from the experience of seeing someone under the spell of witchcraft during this time in history. There are obvious similarities to both ideas, and both equally terrifying. But we’ve never seen a film about witchcraft like this. We’ve never even really seen a movie about religion like this. Films this challenging deserve to be championed and revered.