THE WITCH (USA/UK/Canada/Brazil/15A/92mins)
Directed by Robert Eggers. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Katie Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Bathsheba Garnett.
THE PLOT: It’s the mid-17th century (or thereabouts), New England, and a family of seven have been excorcised from their Puritan church and community after a little religious difference of opinion. Deciding to go it alone out on a farm deep in the wild, the man of the house (Ineson) is far better belting out the scripture than he is harvesting the land. And given that he and his stern wife (Dickie) have four kids, and a new baby, living off the fat of the land is somewhat crucial.
Not that food is the family’s main concern when that newborn suddenly vanishes…
THE VERDICT: Once you get over the fact that everyone sounds like Andy Kershaw here, there’s something beautiful beating at the heart of Robert Eggers arty horror flick.
Only trouble is, there isn’t much in the way of scares.
Being far more Paul Thomas Anderson than Roger William Corman in his approach, Eggers – making his debut here – is meticulous in his re-creation of a Puritan New England. And it would be hard to fault ‘The Witch’ for that attention to authentic detail, but Eggers’ film becomes more like an exercise in history than horror as this ostensibly arthouse offering unfolds.
Not that the cast don’t give it their all here, with Anya Taylor-Joy being particularly notable, whilst you’re constantly aware of the fact that Eggers has done his homework here. Production designer on a plethora of shorts and Jay Stern’s 2013 feature ‘Spirit Cabinet’, Eggers shows all the signs of being a serious filmmaker here.
Let’s just hope that next time out, he has a little fun too.
Review by Paul Byrne

The Witch
Review by Paul Byrne
2.0Pretty but unscary
  • filmbuff2011

    Winner of the Best First Feature award at the 2015 London Film Festival, The Witch is a startling directorial debut from production and costume designer Robert Eggers. It can be conveniently labelled as a horror film, but it transcends that to become something altogether more powerful. It’s also titled ‘A New England folktale’.

    Decades before the infamous Salem witch trials, an English family moves to New England in search of a better life. William (Ralph Ineson) and his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) are no longer welcome in their plantation though and are banished to the wilderness beside a forest. Along with them are their four children, the oldest of which is Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) who is now coming of age. With food scarce, the family will have to fight for survival in the wilderness. But there’s an even bigger problem: their youngest child, just a baby, disappears into the forest. Rumours spread within the increasingly desperate family that there’s a witch in the woods. When their eldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) comes back from the forest in a delirious fever, suspicion is quickly cast upon Thomasin. Has she been ‘witched’ and is she a threat to her family? It’s not long before this humble family is torn apart by forces within and without…

    Playing like a film about witchcraft and superstition as directed by Roman Polanski or Stanley Kubrick, The Witch is a precision-made period piece that doesn’t go for cheap shocks or throwaway laughs. It’s mostly humourless, a slow-burner that gradually builds up tension and a pervasive sense of dread. Much is left unsaid in the film, leaving audiences to come up with their own interpretations of what is happening to this family – and just what’s going on in the woods. That’s refreshing from a new filmmaker like Eggers, who also wrote the script. He’s taking chances here, given that the title character is actually more of a background character – a presence that is constantly felt rather than actually seen. It does so a lot more effectively than The Blair Witch Project.

    The acting is flawless throughout, with Taylor-Joy particularly impressive in a challenging role with quite a transformative story arc. Eggers wrings considerable tension out of key scenes, which you could cut with a knife. The last few minutes are stunning and won’t be forgotten in a hurry. The Witch isn’t a conventional horror film, but it has an undeniable, throbbing power to it that makes it a must-see future cult film. A spine-tingling mini masterpiece. ****