The Witch stars Anya Taylor-Joy making her feature film debut, Ralph Ineson (Kingsman, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2), Kate Dickie (Prometheus, Game of Thrones) and Harvey Scrimshaw. It’s directed by first time director, writer Robert Eggers.
In 1630s New England, a family living on a farm begin to experience witchcraft and other evil forces, that drives their family apart.
I’m not a big horror fan but every few years a film will come out in the genre that I really like. The Witch is one of those films. I had heard a lot of really good buzz going into this film but I was still slightly apprehensive after being disappointed by last years It Follows, which was also highly praised. The Witch is a bold horror film, that doesn’t follow any of the usual horror cliches and never lost my interest.
Any good horror film should have a strong tone and setting, The Witch captures both perfectly. The New England setting is really dark and very grey, which gives the film a constant spookiness, that creates an ominous tone. Even when nothing is happening, you’re never allowed to feel safe or comforted because the surroundings are so eerie and bleak. All this combined with the constant tension, that never gives up, all the way till the final shot, you’re on the edge of your seat and never given a sigh of relief. The atmosphere created by Robert Eggers is wonderful, in the most evil and terrifying way possible.
The tone of this film is fantastic but can only be consistent if the pacing is handled correctly. Almost every horror film is filled with jump scares that ruin any tone a film has built up or sloppy pacing causing the audience to loose interest in anything the film has done. The Witch paces itself perfectly throughout it short 90 minute run time, it never gives you too much but never gives you to little. Early on within the first 15 minutes, you see a lot more than I thought you would but the Witch is never fully revealed and is still left with enough ambiguity to keep you intrigued. It never reveals too much (even towards the very end) and kept my attention throughout.
Performance wise, The Witch is almost perfect, there was one performance I didn’t like but I’ll get to that later. The father of the family played by Ralph Ineson is brilliant. Ineson is an actor that pops up a lot in different films but this is the biggest role I’ve ever seen him in and he really impressed me. He had a strong presence on screen and you truly believed he cared about his family. Anya Taylor-Joy stole the show in her first film and is a new actress, who is going to burst onto the scene in a big way. The acting in horror films, is usually terrible and I think that’s because it’s hard to play scared but when you got someone who can pull it of like Taylor-Joy, it adds immensely to your fear whilst watching. The brother played by Harvey Scrimshaw is also very good and has potential to be a solid actor in the future.
The film is called The Witch, so you would be correct in assuming there’s a witch in the film. She is terrifying. Like I said earlier the film never shows to much but shows enough of the witch, to make your mind think about her, after the film is over. She probably has under 5 minutes of screen time but her presence hangs over the film and the dread that she is close by, adds to the constant tension the film creates. Because she is used so sparingly, every time shes on screen it’s horrifying and will definitely keep you awake at night.
The Witch is set in the 1630s and the characters speak in a Shakespearean way, which at first I thought was going to be really irritating. But the dialogue is written perfectly and you never get lost in the language. The actors should also be praised for navigating the script and delivering the lines seamlessly
I find the majority of horror films fail in the third act. I mention It Follows before, which I was really enjoying until the final act became cliche and the characters became morons. The Witch doesn’t follow any of the normal horror tropes. The tension is built up throughout the film building to a big conclusion but then the tension keeps going till the final scene. There isn’t a huge pay off at the end but it fits the rest of the film and stays true to the story it’s telling. There’s no jump scares, no stupid characters and no over the top, predictable conclusion.
Unfortunately the film wasn’t flawless. I didn’t have many complaints but my biggest one was Kate Dickie. She plays the mother on the farm and also played Lysa Arryn on Game of Thrones. I never like her on Game of Thrones and she plays a similar character, I didn’t like in this film. I’m not sure what it is in particular I don’t like about her but she overacts a lot and isn’t enjoyable to watch on screen. Kate Dickie isn’t the worst actress ever and I know people have liked her in this role but for me she didn’t work.
Another little thing that annoyed me in the early goings of the film, was the score. It’s really loud and the furthest thing from subtle. There are two kinds of scores that I enjoy in horror films. A quiet, subtle and very nuanced score that you don’t even realise is effecting you or an iconic, chilling theme like the Exorcist or Psycho. The score for The Witch was just loud, obnoxious and when it ramped up, it took me out of the film completely. Fortunately it only ever did this in the first 20 minutes and maybe once more towards the end.
You should know going into The Witch (despite how its been marketed), this isn’t your usual horror film that will scare the general public. It takes chances, is unique and very well crafted by an indie director. If you like smart horror films, that build tension and earn scary moments, then you will love The Witch.
Have you seen The Witch and what did you think of it?