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A beautiful way to tell a dark story that reverts to the old tradition of film-making as an art piece.

I‘ll be completely honest – it took me about an hour to fully digest what I had just watched in order for me to appreciate this film for what it truly is. The Witch is not your typical horror film where you can expect eerie music to build up to the moment where you jump and cover your eyes. Rather, you can expect to be uncomfortable as you witness the decay of a family bond, afflicted by religious intent. The Witch is horrifying in the most raw and real way possible.

A Puritan family leaves their settlement in New England due to a disagreement on their religious beliefs. They find land in the countryside, where they try to rebuild their lives and start fresh. After several months, the family’s values are tested as the temptation of sin develops. Amidst their attempt at getting closer to God, we are shown their imperfections, consisting of lies, hints of betrayal, and a dash of lust.

A young teenage girl named Thomasin is watching over her baby brother when, in the blink of an eye, he is snatched from the witch in the woods. This creates tension within the family when the mother, Katherine, puts the blame on Thomasin for losing the infant. After this incident, things start to go downhill as we watch the bond between this family start to slowly unravel. Nearly all six family members are dishonest with another, which contradicts their religious beliefs. Yet throughout all of this deceit, they still pray daily to God and ask for guidance and forgiveness. Is it black magic from the witch that is putting a damper on their behavior? Or is it the imperfect human nature that is tempting them to live otherwise?

It’s refreshing for a film so raw like this to consist of more obscure actors. It adds an unfamiliar aspect that really helps make the story compelling and uncomfortable. The child actors did a really convincing job of acting their roles, but the best performance goes to Ralph Ineson who plays the father, William. He appears to be understanding and practical, yet holds the ability to turn like a switch.

The witch herself is only shown briefly in three different scenes. The ambiguity of her representation leaves much to the imagination for the viewer, which creates it’s own excitement and suspense. She’s depicted in two different ways, more typically as an elderly woman whose face stays covered for the most part. The other way she is shown is young and beautiful, in a setting where she seduces a curious and vulnerable boy as an act to lure him in.

Subdued colors and a lot of negative space are the most prominent visual elements that really add to the grittiness of this film. A lot of these scenes were very painterly, making it almost appear surreal, all while adding to the realness of the story. Showing the characters very small in the corner of the screen with the overwhelming size of the woods in the background show how little and miniscule people are compared to the size of the world.

Symbolism is embedded throughout this entire film, revolving heavily around sin. A simple scene where a boy tells his mother an innocent white lie to protect her is just one to add to the list of dishonesty depicted throughout the story. Even for a boy at a young age, who is being raised to obey and love God, will be tempted to sin whether he realizes it or not. With a neutral color palette, the most dominant color that stands out throughout several scenes is a dark rich red. Red is most known to symbolize passion, seduction, anger, violence, and danger. Now, while The Witch exemplifies these things, it is in a more subtle and anti-climatic way. For this reason is why everybody is terrified by this film. Because it seems real.

Robert Eggers directed The Witch in an incredibly authentic way, staying true to his research of Puritan lifestyles in the 17th century, and incorporating portrayals of folklore and fairy tales. Because of this, Eggers pushes his film to stand out from the average horror flick you’d watch on Halloween. His genuine approach makes The Witch relatable to old traditions of film-making. It’s not about making the audience jump at every turn but about the art of storytelling. This film reminds me much of Werner Herzog’s films, a critically acclaimed German director known for really delving into the filmmaking process that allows the viewer to dissect the film and analyze it rather than just be entertained. Eggers wanted to make this psychological thriller believable and honor the real world. The fear of witches doesn’t just derive from folklore that was made to scare people. It was an actual fear of people in that era and he wanted to really illustrate these roots.

The Witch is not intended to scare the pants off you from scary monsters popping out from the dark. It’s a film that is so compelling to the fear of witchcraft and black magic that it will haunt you. This film takes it’s time in order for you to really get in the minds of the characters and feel what their feeling. Before you watch this film, just know that it is a slow burn and anti-climatic, with a few surprises in between, but for necessary reasons. The Witch is eerie, haunting, and compelling. It’s a film that encourages the audience to place themselves in a time period that genuinely feared powers beyond their control.

 

Directed By: Robert Eggers

Produced By: Daniel Bekerman, Lars, Knudsen, Jodi, Redmond, Rodrigo Teixeira, Jay Van Hoy

Written By: Robert Eggers

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Katie Dickie

Distribution Company: A24

Release Date: February 19, 2016

Run Time: 93 minutes

Rating: R

 

 

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