“The Witch” began its wide theatrical release across the country yesterday.
During the 17th century a religious family departs from the comfort of a plantation based on a difference in beliefs. William (Ralph Ineson) and his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) along with their eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) suddenly find themselves starting anew.
William and Katherine welcome a fifth child, Samuel, into their family a few months later. Under Thomasin’s watch, Samuel is abducted by the witch residing in the forest that taunts the family at the dark edges of their land. Samuel is slaughtered and used to expand the witch’s black magic. Katherine is devastated as Thomasin becomes the black sheep of the family.
As tensions rise, the entire family is pitted against one another as they expect that Lucifer has made a deal with at least one of the children. Matters are made worse when their harvest rots soon after. They’re driven to the brink of insanity as they beg God for guidance and eventually take matters into their own hands to free their loved ones from this madness.
American writer and director Robert Eggers makes his feature film debut with the horror film “The Witch.” Debuting at Sundance in 2015, “The Witch” has been highly anticipated based on its first-rate reputation. As you witness William’s family pull away from what they call home in a creaky carriage filled with all of their belongings, you can already sense that you’ve signed on to observe a different kind of film that falls outside of the mold that tends to terrify today’s audiences.
The events of “The Witch” are intertwined with the voice of Ralph Ineson. This is Thomasin’s story, but it’s William’s voice that brings it to life. Ineson has this deep growl when he speaks that is animal-like in delivery yet echoes in the walls of your brain. William is this lion of a man that is more than capable of taking care of himself and his constantly expanding family, but is torn apart by a monster he never sees.
The visuals of the film are bathed in a blanket of darkness, but Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography allows you to see just what you’re meant to see and offers a shelter for the demons that lurk in the shadows. Flickering candle light only gives these demons a chance to dance and taunt the ones who cannot find them, which triggers your mind to wander and see horrific things that may or may not be there.
As the horror unfolds, you realize that one of the reasons “The Witch” is so riveting is because it’s so unpredictable. Every time this family tries to crawl out from this steaming, horrid pile that has been bestowed upon them, matters are only made worse. Blood is no longer as thick as it’s rumored to be as religious beliefs take precedence. “The Witch” questions faith and dismantles what was once believed to be a righteous path, disfigures it, and replaces it with a journey that leads straight into the depths of hell. What seems like the ethical and spiritual thing to do only plays directly into the witch’s hands.
“The Witch” is bleak and wicked from the very beginning as its imagery plunges into territory many films wouldn’t even have the balls to consider; a baby is sacrificed, a mother’s wrath is never quenched, possession takes many forms, udders suddenly enter the realm of agony, and black goats become the gateway between this realm and a much, much darker one.
Robert Eggers’ debut offers the “monster creeps among us” atmosphere of John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” mesmerizes with the surreal uncertainty of Ben Wheatley’s “A Field in England,” descends its audience into an unforgiving wilderness that is nearly as violent as “The Revenant,” and unnerves your very soul with haunting imagery as effective as “Pan’s Labyrinth.” “The Witch” is a hellish journey that scares and captivates in a slickly subtle way that is both satisfying and memorable.