The Witch (2015)

witch_2015_poster
The Witch (2015)
  • Time: 90 min
  • Genre: Horror | Mystery
  • Director: Robert Eggers
  • Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

Storyline:

New England, 1630: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life, homesteading on the edge of an impassible wilderness, with five children. When their newborn son mysteriously vanishes and their crops fail, the family begins to turn on one another. ‘The Witch’ is a chilling portrait of a family unraveling within their own fears and anxieties, leaving them prey for an inescapable evil.

3 reviews

  • (RATING: ☆☆☆ out of 5)

    THIS FILM IS MILDLY RECOMMENDED.

    IN BRIEF: The Crucible meets The Shining meets Rosemary’s Baby in Robert Eggers’ well-received but wildly overrated debut film.
     
    GRADE: C+

    JIM’S REVIEW: While the film is called The Witch, it is its subtitle, A New England Folktale, that reveals more about writer / director Robert Eggers’ first film. Folktales were originally cautionary tales told to impressionable children to forewarn them of the dangers in the real world. The film uses its time and setting most ingeniously, recalling the religious repression of that period and the mass hysteria associated with sin and witchcraft in a Puritan village. It has also garnered the awe of many impressionable critics as well. While this psychological thriller has some strong and disturbing imagery, it cannot hide the many illogical twists in the plot that are more evident after the film reaches its unsatisfying conclusion.

    One is initially captivated by the story, production values, and acting as the film tells its tale of a family surviving on its own after being exiled by the community elders. There are strange satanic goings-on as they settle into the woods (a bad place to be in most fairy tale lore): daily fire and brimstone sermons from an arrogant shiftless father, William (Ralph Ineson), Katherine (Kate Dickie), a cold and hateful mother who seems more possessed than humanly possible, lustful glances by a confused son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a pre-pubescent unhappy daughter, two creepy twins spouting evil talk, and a baby who goes missing. Nothing goes quite well for these outcasts.

    The atmosphere is indeed moody and eerie, although the pacing of the film is in need of some stirring. Eggers is a solid director, and a talent that shows much promise. He creates a wonderful setting with much historical accuracy and his penchant for occasional surreal images with black birds, goats, wild rabbits, and subtle uses of blood to accentuate the perils surrounding the family are haunting and very effectively done.

    The acting is uniformly strong. Mr. Ineson, sporting an anachronistic 21st century six-pack physique that could have tempted many a Puritan, handles the speechifying astutely and Ms. Dickie brings a sullen and disagreeable presence to her character, but it is the acting of the two younger members of the clan, namely Mr. Scrimshaw and Ms. Taylor-Joy who delivers the emotional connection needed to care about this stoic family and their creepy dilemmas.

    Yet, as the story progresses and more and more supernatural things befall these victims, the leaps of logic become harder to accept. Mr. Eggers’ script ultimately lets down the audience. His flair for visuals compensates for a lack of cohesiveness in his screenplay. There is also an over-reliance of heightened sound effects and atonal musical cues that telegraphs something wicked before it comes this way.

    Just as folktales are themselves cautionary stories, The Witch may hold one’s interest in its storytelling, but this reviewer must caution any moviegoer that this well-crafted tale will leave you more bothered or bewildered than bewitched.

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  • Robert Eggers’ first feature film is an astonishing achievement: It’s a Seventeenth Century film. If a 17th Century American colonist had our technology this is the film he would have made.
    Everything in it is 17th Century: the characters, the language, the world view, the life, the clothing, the props, the lighting, the faith.
    Mainly the world view. There is no sign of modern knowledge, science or medicine within the film. The only modern understanding is what some members of the audience may bring to it. Not anyone from the Republican/Tory Right, though — it’s their knowledge and belief the film depicts in its total fidelity to the 17th Century. That, of course, is why the film was made today. Our current political debate makes Puritan religion a perfect emblem of contemporary pre-Enlightenment America.
    The film reminds us that America’s putative independence remained rooted in religiosity. When the constitution deliberately separated the state from religion its intention was not to privilege any one religion over the others, not to free the land from all religion. In God they still trusted but they didn’t want to advantage any one god or path. This the ultra-Christian modern demagogues have self-servingly forgotten.
    The religiosity smacks through the opening scene. A Puritan court — black and white in its religious morality and duds — banishes a family from the plantation because the father has been even more religious and demanding than they are.
    The banished William and Katherine, with their five children, carve out a homestead in the wilderness. At first they seem the model of self-reliance. But when things go wrong, when they make mistakes, when nature proves noncompliant, they can only blame the devil and his spawn. That’s why we have religion: to blame the devil for our failures and to court God with our arrogant humility.
    Because this is a 17th Century film we watch the witch ritually abuse the stolen infant, we see the siren tempt son Caleb and choke him on the forbidden fruit (a desiccated Delicious), and we hear the witch descend in the wind to kill the goats and carry off the twins. What in a modern film would be supernatural horror in this 17th Century world is nature.
    What begins in nature ends in supernature. First the ram Black Phillip kills the father. That’s natural, what often happens when an animal previously out-rassled by his master, gets a chance for revenge.
    But then nature is ratchetted up to superstition (aka religion). We hear the black devil ram seduce the oldest, Thomasin, and carry her off to join the powerful coven of sexually free women that terrifies domestic normalcy. That sexual paranoia, of course, is the psychological source of the legends of witches. They represent a rampant female sexuality that no man can control — so they must be demonized.
    Certainly never elected.

  • “I am that very witch. When I sleep my spirit slips away from…my body and dances naked with The Devil. ”

    Wow, this was the biggest disappointment of the year. After reading some laudable messages and the rather misleading recommendations on certain websites, I thought I was ready for again another original horror that, unlike most in this genre, doesn’t have an overused subject. In retrospect I really wondered where the horror started in this story. Yes, the language used in that time terrified me. That’s for sure. I understood absolutely nothing and I was glad that subtitles were provided. Is it the religious devotion in those days that scares you? I would call it religious insanity. As soon as something happens, those arms go up to the sky and that all-encompassing divinity is called on for help. Or is there really something pernicious in that dark forest, causing this poor farming family to be overwhelmed by adversities?

    What if they’d called “The VVitch” a historic drama? Probably my opinion would be slightly milder (and probably I wouldn’t have watched it anyway). But calling this horror, is a gross deception for many. In my view this movie shows the misconceptions and misinterpretations that were commonplace at that time. A bad harvest, another setback or an unexplained illness caused those simple and unknowing souls to wail and pray to the almighty. An era in which superstition and fear of the unknown thrived. Is that what this simple peasant family made insane? Such madness, that even the black goat in the family was regarded as the source of all evil? For me it’s just a historical, psychological drama. It’s as simple as that.

    As mentioned earlier, the entire film is drenched in Old English. I can imagine that historians and linguists go all lyrical about it and get overexcited about it (I can see them sitting there already all slobbery). I tried to understand a tiny bit of it. As a result it required my complete attention mostly. I can believe that the mise en scene of the whole, looked accurate and authentic. The house-holding, the way they dress and the way of living were shown brilliantly and very well cared for. Likewise, the acting and dramatics. Especially the young actors were excellent and gave it a unique character. I can imagine that finding such good, young actors, isn’t easy. Their hard work, while seeking a perfect cast, paid of.

    Nope guys. This is far from being a horror. Or hearing yet another prayer gives you the chills. I like subtle films in the horror genre. It isn’t necessary for me that it’s all bloody and gory. But I’m afraid I’ve missed the subtlety of “The VVitch” somehow. The marketing department of the publisher probably realized suddenly that the label horror sounds sexier and more commercial than the ordinary label drama. Let alone they would even mention it’s a historical costume film. Not that this is an insignificant genre, but the target audience is more limited in my opinion. In terms of atmosphere and film technology it’s unparalleled. But I’m just allergic to deception on a large scale. A bit like religion itself, isn’t it? Lets pray for that for once …

    PS. I’ve seen the trailer afterwards. Now I understand why film-goers thought this would be horror.

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