As a horror film buff I walked into The Witch with a veil of skepticism. Sure it was receiving a lot of praise from critics and festivals but I’ve been let down before and then bombarded with news of remakes and frankly my cynicism for the genre is well-deserved.
However, The Witch was something else. It’s a horror film, but in a different way. It’s frightening, but not really scary? It’s unnerving and tense and I felt fearful but not in that jump scare/there’s a giant monster sort of way. It’s a well-rounded nightmare.
The film takes place in 17th Century New England and the cast and crew do an incredible job making the period piece feel authentic. The accents, the dreary landscape and the details piece together a dark and honest setting that engages the audience immediately. A deeply religious couple (played by Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie) are forced to move their family from the village and into the edge of the woods where a witch and her evil magic dwells. The couple settles into their new life with their children, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), twins Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) and newly born Samuel. When the witch begins to creep into their sanity, chaos ensues.
So many things are hard to watch. The parents are so devout to their religion that they are more than willing to turn against their own children. Their devotion leads audiences down an unsure path about having faith and losing sanity. The twins play upon that classic genre trope that children in horror movies are always creepy. They’re annoying, but scary and they aren’t actually involved in anything frightening but they walk that line of being too naive or too astute to the paranormal. Poor Thomasin is caught up in the middle of it all and the audience follows her confusion of what is real and what can save her.
The cast is excellent and the imagery is stunning, but don’t walk into the theater expecting to get the pants scared off you. It’s an honest portrayal of a classic storyline and it is so effective.
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