Director: Robert Eggers
Writer: Robert Eggers
Verdict: Nearly a masterpeice
The Witch is the debut film from Robert Eggers, most well known otherwise for his sort film adaptation of the quite fantastic Edgar Allen Poe story The Tell-Tale Heart. He’s rooted in production design and that comes through in The Witch, which, despite it’s stripped back setting and nature has wonderful costumes, location choices, and world building. Despite this the real magic lies in the acting, cinematography, score, and script. The Witch is actually nigh on perfect, despite a 55% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (What, would you rather go see Annabelle or Transformers: Age of Extinction?)
The Witch follows a New England family in the really early days of the English colonisation of America. The family that constitutes the main body of our cast are cast out of their puritanical community for being even more puritanical and they head out to start up their own little hamlet. However when the crops start failing, and the baby disappears, things fall apart and the centre cannot hold.
I look at The Witch as the little film that could. Everything is going against The Witch, especially as a horror film, it’s main characters are children, it involves animals, it’s a period piece with period clothing and language, and it’s a slow burn. However it takes these things that would normally go against it and makes them work for it. In the same way that in A Clockwork Orange, Alex’s Nadsat future slang takes on some form of Chaucerian poetry, in the case of the syntax in The Witch, Eggers has such ability with it that the words take on something Shakespearean. The frame is narrower than most, so that animals with long thin faces with eyes at the side like rabbits and goats look huge and imposing. The period detail is great and really sells the weirdness of the family who are obsessed with sin and being born into sin and in the world they create you really believe it. In the same way as something like His Bloody Project, their obsession with sin and religion works so well because of the mephitic atmosphere created in a more brutal world. The children are just great, Anya Taylor-Joy, (Morgan, Split) is just a revelation, a really extraordinary performance. I wasn’t such a fan of Harvey Scrimshaw as the brother figure Caleb, I mean he can’t do the accent to save his life. However, there’s this one scene, that is just incredible, I mean genuinely terrifying, and he’s great in it.
The performances from the adults are great as well, Ralph Ineson, (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Game of Thrones, The Office), is pretty much note perfect and Kate Dickie, (Prometheus, Filth), is just mad in the best possible way.
The real joy, though, comes from the atmosphere and world building coming from the cinematography and score. I mentioned earlier the narrowed frame accentuating the faces of animals, it works with the setting also. They are surrounded by a forest in which dark spirits supposedly lurk, and the narrowed frame makes the trees fill it and rise about everything. The colour palate also mainly consists of whites, greys, and washed out browns, so there’ll occasionally be a red or yellow that really stands out, and this effect is used perfectly to accentuate the drama. The score is great and has something of the Carter Burwell Fargo score about it. It’s strong, acoustic, and piercing, which matches the tone of the film quite nicely I think.
However, that being said, here’s the problem with all of this, it’s the ending. See the best element of the film, I mean the very best, is that it’s ambiguous. We’re not even sure if there really is a witch, it is, in reality, a film about a family imploding upon itself. There’s a moment where if they’d have ended it I’d have been happy, they cut to black, and it’s great, and I love it. However after they cut to black it comes back for a little 5 minute coda that to a degree ruins the film. I mean it’s done very well but it moves from psychological to supernatural and I like that less, it’s less interesting. So it’s a really good film, it’s really interesting, really well made, really atmospheric and actually scary right, but it’s those 5 minutes that spoil it for me. I mean it really bugs me. In a way I’m more annoyed that the film squandered all that promise more than anything else, like as a short those 5 minutes would actually have been really good on their own, but they’re inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the movie.
Despite this, The Witch succeeds due to committed performances from a game cast, legitimate psychological scares and a level of technical accomplishment belying the director’s inexperience.
The Witch, it’s the new Sunshine.