Review: ‘The Witch’ Gives a Palpable Sense of Evil
Back when I went to go see “The Green Inferno” (ya I know big mistake) one trailer caught my eye.
It was a trailer that didn’t say much other than trying to sell you on its atmosphere and these are the kind of trailers I like. The trailer was for “The Witch” and has been on my personal radar ever since. Now the main thing to remember with this film is that it will not be for everyone. For me, this pushes all of the right buttons in what I like in a horror flick. It’s old fashioned and more about mood and buildups and if that kind of thing doesn’t appeal to you then this movie may not appeal to you. If you read my review for “The Changeling” and agreed with a lot of the points then this will probably be up your alley as well. Although, I can completely understand if you end up disliking the film for all of the reasons I’m praising it. With that said let’s get into it.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 4.5
This is the kind of film that the less you know going into it the better, so I will do my best to avoid getting too specific. The plot is about a family exiled from their main village; they find a nice patch of land to call their own and turn it into a little farm. Weird things begin happening after their baby disappears while the family’s own paranoia and underlying problems begin to pile up. That’s basically what the trailers got across. It is a simple movie and while the pace is mostly slow, I never felt bored with it.
The acting is all effective from the cast of unknowns… well unknown to me. I didn’t recognize any of them. I looked them up online and while some have a few big name credits, they generally were bit players. Needless to say they really get to shine along with the complete newcomers. I’ve heard some other reviewers complain about the heavy accents plus the old English (yes I’m aware technically old English is some totally different) dialog making parts of the film difficult to follow. I was personally able to mostly follow the story. There were a few sentences I couldn’t understand but nothing major. Plus, I feel that it helped the overall feeling of uncomfortableness the story had going, although some may be turned off by that.
The cinematography is gorgeously Gothic looking. Supposedly a majority was filmed in natural light; just another layer of authenticity that added to the film. Everything from the costumes, to the sets, to the locations, to even the level of dirt and grittiness made it feel so real. This is the directorial debut of Robert Eggers and it is a mighty first outing. Eggers will be someone whose career I plan to watch with great interest, especially since he’s been signed to direct a “Nosferatu” remake. Still, while it is an intense film I feel like Eggers has a firm grasp on what to show and what not to show. It earns it’s R rating, but it also never feels gory for the sake of being gory.
Entertainment Value – 5
Now for this section I’m going to dig a little deeper into the film. Still no major spoilers but if you haven’t seen the movie you may want to just skip ahead if you’re reading this to try to decide if you want to see it. Ok here we go, this film is sort of a reverse case of “Hail, Caesar!” in that there isn’t a great deal of subtext or any deeper meaning. However, like I said in the other review the lack of a theme can be overcome by just being so damn good at your job, which this film does in spades. I’m sure someone could read into how the film is about repressed sexuality and religion or something, but I honestly didn’t think it had much in that. I feel that a lot of the bad reviews that may call it basic or lacking depth are reading it incorrectly, really it’s in the subtitle; “A New England Folktale.” It’s not trying to say something impactful, it is just a dramatization of those old colonial witch stories.
So minor spoiler (as in it becomes clear within the first 15 minutes) the Witch is real. I realized after watching how strange that is. Witches just aren’t a monster we see a lot in media nowadays. When we do, it tends to be more about the question of “are they real witches or not” with the humans in said story being the true monsters (ex: “The Crucible” or “Paranorman”). There’s nothing wrong with those types of movies and they leave you with a lot to think and debate about (ex: “The Black Death”) but that’s not what the story is here. It’s an incredibly well executed version of the kind of story you might hear told around a campfire.
Make no mistake this is a scary film, it is also a slow burn so it doesn’t surprise me that there are plenty of reviewers who don’t like the movie because they found it to be boring, not me… obviously. Because the atmosphere is so pervasive there are no real safety scenes. With most horror movies you can tell with certain scenes when it’s okay. You can relax, the monster isn’t going to attack, but when they go back into the house then you can put up your guard. This film doesn’t really have that. Once it starts you know the horror could happen at any minute and as a result you may be quickly checking every corner of the screen for movement. One thing the film loves to play with is the concept of being in the same space as something but not being able to tell where exactly that something is. It’s often said that what you don’t see is more horrifying than what you do see and that’s true, but I’ve always thought that the things you almost see can also be pretty terrifying. That thing in the corner of your eye for just a second can really make you jump sometimes. Still the film isn’t afraid to show, and you’ll most likely have a few moments with your mouth agape and eyes glued to screen.
Rewatchability – 4
I would totally watch it again and even let it become a part of my Halloween watching. However, there is one wrinkle in that, I’m a little afraid to ha-ha; for kind of completely different reasons. On the one hand, it is a very intense movie but on the other hand films rarely have that same impact seeing it again. Already it doesn’t have the same hold on me like (for example) “The Babadook” did, but it’s still quite unnerving. After all, I was able to sleep just fine the night after seeing it. For a horror film that’s a little disappointing, but on the other hand this is standard for me at this point in my life. Most horror films don’t affect me much afterwards. With that, it really makes me curious about how this film will hold up on multiple viewings.
The best way I know how to describe this film is that there is just a real palpable sense of evil while watching it. You can probably tell if that is the kind of movie for you or not. The subtitle is A New England Folktale and it really lives up to it. If you want a dark twisted tale, about a witch then that is what you'll get. It is the kind of movie if you get into what it is actually about and not what you expect it to be, then I think it'll really haunt you.