Witch, The (2015)

Review #1,302

Director:  Robert Eggers
Cast:   Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Plot:  A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.

Genre:  Horror / Mystery
Awards:  Won Best Director (Sundance).
Runtime:  92min
Rating:  M18 for disturbing violent content and graphic nudity.
International Sales:  WME Global
Distributor:  United International Pictures (Singapore)

“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

If you are into horror, you must watch The Witch.  Even if you are not, such is the craft of Robert Eggers' first feature that you will find it remarkable for its precision and economy.  It's a filmmaker's film, an endeavour that calls attention to its artistry, yet very well immerses the viewer into its self-contained world of inexplicable terror. 

Running at only about 90 minutes, The Witch is slow-burning, but extremely well-paced.  There is no wasted scene, and every shot is put to good use.  Winning Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival, The Witch markets itself as a ‘New England folktale’, centering on witchcraft, black magic and possession—rather familiar elements of the genre.  It is, however, unlike what you have seen before. 

Shot in Ontario in Canada, the sweeping landscape of open fields and deep woods have an eerie quality to it.  Isolated in this seemingly otherworldly space, a family banished to the wilderness tries to survive, but faces an unprecedented chain of events when Samuel, their baby, disappears despite being under watch by Thomasin, the eldest daughter. 

The supernatural seems to pervade the family, but Eggers’ grounded storytelling style and earthy cinematography—it was also largely shot in natural lighting—give The Witch a strong sense of realism, as if anything that is unexplainable could be believable in that world.  This is the 1630s, a time when historical records were believed to have archived instances of witchcraft and the existence of witches. 

With the film adopting a language best categorized as early modern English—you will get your fix of ‘thees’ and ‘thous’—there is a conscious effort by Eggers to create tension through his characters’ verbal engagement with faith and God, or lack thereof. 

Coupled with the film's deliberately unsettling sound design, and a truly terrifying, largely strings and choral heavy score—percussion and drums are used to stunning effect only in the epilogue, The Witch is no doubt one of the most bone-chilling horror films to come out in the last few years. 

Verdict:  Eggers’ first feature is remarkable in its precision and economy, and no doubt one of the most bone-chilling horror films to come out in the last few years.


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