Film Review: The Witch (A24; 2015)

Source: A24
Source: A24

Tabitha Buckley, Contributor

What do you get when you cross Arthur Miller’s classic play ‘The Crucible’ with an assortment of age-old horror tropes?

As it turns out, you get a fantastic film whose historical setting gives a fresh perspective on a tale already told countless times. The Witch (2015) follows a Puritan family who are excommunicated from their New England plantation because of the father’s (Ralph Ineson) ‘prideful conceit’. The family begin to try and make the most of their new life, but soon find themselves at the mercy of what appears to be forces of evil lurking in the nearby woods – and by the paranoia which inevitably sets in.

Source: A24
Source: A24

It’s very rare to find a gem quite like The Witch in the horror genre, which is often saturated with lazy jump scares and cheesy plot devices. This film is not one which is simply designed to make you jump in your seat every now and again, but one which aims to embody everything that a horror movie should be: horrifying. Director Robert Eggers has achieved something in his debut film which many directors don’t manage in their entire career.

The unnerving atmosphere which Eggers creates is acted on perfectly by his cast. Ineson puts in a wonderful performance as plantation farmer William, who is equal parts desperate and self-assured, while Kate Dickie makes a worryingly convincing unhinged puritan wife. It is, however, the younger half of the cast who steal the show. Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson, who play twins Mercy and Jonas, gleefully skip along the line between adorable and terrifying, while Harvey Scrimshaw (who plays Caleb) captures just how confusing the early stages of puberty must be when the only girls you know are your sisters. Meanwhile, Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of Thomasin is so subtly convincing that there is some disagreement over the precise moral nature of her character. 

Source: A24
Source: A24

The eerie performances of the characters are perfectly echoed by the beautiful – yet haunting – setting. Filmed in a remote area of Canada, Eggers has located his film in a predominantly grey landscape thick with branches and dried plants, desolate fields and overgrown streams, rendering the entire film incredibly aesthetically pleasing, even in its more gory moments. Even if you find the lack of jump scares in this film disappointing, you will not be able to deny the fact that its cinematography is absolutely stunning.

Although this film does not quite earn the title ‘Scariest Film of the Year’ as some critics have dubbed it, it is undeniably a fantastic film which can be admired for the research that has gone into its production, if nothing else. Owing to the director’s use of ambiguity in the film, however, it is one you’ll have to go and see for yourself to get a true grasp of what it’s all about.

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