“The Witch” will cast a spell on you

Courtesy of A24 Films
Courtesy of A24 Films

The rate at which good horror movies grace the box office is roughly on par with the number of supernatural encounters I have had in my life: Both are incredibly rare and no one believes me when I tell them about it anyway. So sit ye down and hear about this film, which is an essential watch for all horror film fans and film buffs in general. “The Witch,” directed by Robert Eggers, is a surreal tale of madness, paranoia and fear set in a British settler colony in America.

The tale follows the story of a New England family who have been banished from the their colony for not adhering to the religious doctrines of the church. Once expelled, the family travels with their belongings and settle on some land at the edge of the forest. One day, while in the care of the oldest daughter Thomasin(Anya Taylor-Joy), the youngest baby, Caleb, goes missing. From there begins a narrative of madness, suspicion and fear as the family begins to fear the presence of a witch. As the narrative slowly unfurls, the family begins to disintegrate.

“The Witch,” however, is an atypical horror movie, in that there are very few jumpscares, and the arc of the film is actually slightly unpredictable. Instead of cheap horror gags, Eggers creates an incredible amount of tension. “The Witch” more than anything masterfully creates a foreboding atmosphere. The cinematography is excellent, and the entire movie is shot in dark tones, which are suggestive when the frame fixates on any particular subject or landscape. Moreover, the score, which plays with silence and noise — sometimes saturating a scene with music, and then cutting all sound completely — works in tandem with the mood created by the camera work to give every second of the movie an ominous feel. There is not a single minute devoid of tension.

In many ways, the difference between “The Witch” and practically every other horror movie I have seen in the past five years is that it isn’t merely trying to scare you: this film is showing you what fear looked like to settlers of the new world. The characters in this film are outcasts struggling for survival, deeply fearful of the power of nature. In one scene, William (Ralph Ineson), the head of the family, and the oldest son Jonas (Lucas Dawson) are walking through the woods discussing their need to hunt as well as grow food. At one point, William turns to his son and says “fear not Jonas, this wood shall not conquer us.” This shows that the fear this family has is deeply rooted in a fear of place.

Moreover, “The Witch” feels genuinely authentic: From the colloquial dialect, to the props and the daily workload of each individual, there is never a moment that feels out of place with the time. This meticulousness is a rare touch, and one that goes to great lengths to create the atmosphere of the movie.
This film is the stuff of nightmares. Go watch it.

Rating: 4.5/ 5 Stars

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