The Village meets The Blair Witch Project
It’s 17th century New England and a deeply religious, tight-knit family must build a lonely farm in the middle of nowhere when they are banished from the Puritan plantation. Things get creepy when their newest addition to the family (baby Samuel) goes missing. There’s something in the woods and it’s not giving off a friendly vibe.
The Witch feels like quite an original movie from the beginning, introducing itself as a New England folklore tale with unnervingly personal close-ups and the bleak, pale visuals.
When the family left their colonial plantation and set up a new homestead in a remote landscape on the edge of a dark wooded area I immediately started to fear for them. But I wasn’t being pummelled and numbed with a binge-fest of jump scares, instead I found myself slowly dragged into the depths of the narrative.
There’s an exceptionally chilling musical score composed of high-pitched screeching strings and shrieking tones. There’s unsettling angular shots of jagged features and candle-lit close-ups of suspicious expressions. There’s some nightmarish flashes of satanic-like imagery (black crows, a whispering goat and one hell of a creepy, stalkerish rabbit), and moments of fairytale-like horror. Gradually, we’re lured into tragic chaos when the God-fearing family begins to fall apart.
Ralph Ineson brings a stony, hard-worn characterisation of a desperate father and husband, with his rough and rusty vocal tones matching the rugged landscape. There’s a scene in which Ineson’s character finally comes to realise his own sins and his own mistakes, and gives a really raw emotional performance. Kate Dickie gives a flawless performance as usual, and I think we’re going to be seeing a whole lot more of the young Anya Taylor-Joy.
Throughout this movie, the first time feature director and writer Robert Eggers is toying with various themes and symbols that we’re familiar with, but the movie is not trying to terrify us with the premise of a witch living in the woods killing people. The movie is so disturbing because it’s a subtly orchestrated representation of the disaster and horror that can unfold when a devout family becomes engulfed by their fears of sin. Is it really witchcraft and black magic that destroys the family, or is it their own obsessions and repressions?