Thursday 31 March 2016

Review: The Witch

Year: 2015 (U.K Threatical Release 2016)
Director: Robert Eggers
Screenplay: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson

Synopsis is here:

There’s not many horror films that trouble the mind like The Witch. In fact, I celebrate the sheer audacity of its execution as well as Eggers’ faith with the audience. Films like this are destined to be cult. This is not The Conjuring (2013) or Insidious (2010), which lean heavily on loud bangs and jump scares. The Witch is a film that is a triumph of tone. Establishing the same sense of dread that lies in films such as Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), The Devils (1971) and The Witchfinder General (1968). As we follow this excommunicated Puritan family forced into braving an unforgiving terrain with only the word of god by their side, we discover that what makes The Witch tick is the anxiety that stems from the character's suspicions.

Uncertainly is ensured as the fear, distrust and religion slowly bleed into each other. A child goes missing, crops wither, animals start playing up. Has God forsaken this family? Is it just dumb luck?  It becomes clear that the eldest child; Thomasin, is beginning to grow into womanhood. This alone causes serious issues between the family. Is it just budding sexuality through? Are we in the presence of Witches?

This unflinching portrayal of this disintegrating Puritan family unit lead by an immensely cagey performance by doe eyed Anya Taylor-Joy works simply because the cast is so committed to the situation. Eggers has stated that he was influenced by The Shining (1980) and that certainly shows, yet the disorientation and gradual shutting down of trust and mental defenses feel familiar to the likes of The Blair Witch Project (1999). Characters so devoted to their faith that it’s hard not to care for them when things go bump in the night.

The cast is helped on by assured direction from Eggers. Together with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke and composer Mark Korven, Eggers creates an environment in which a simple shot of a rabbit feels more discomforting than it should. A film made for a budget of $1 million dollars, the film constantly looks and feels like more money was placed in the kitty. The attention to detail is substantial.

The Witch could have possibly gone with being a little more ambiguous. While the film takes a slow ride towards its strange ending, it does reveal a tad too much of itself early on, minimising the curiosity somewhat. Meanwhile the film’s final moments to indulge more than some may need. This doesn’t stop the fact that The Witch is still rather bold in its execution. The film’s drained muddy colour palette and unsettling score do far more to unnerve than the latest “Lawton Bus” scares that will infiltrate in the next mainstream chiller.

I’m quite sure that despite raking in a decent box office take, The Witch probably spilt audiences 30/70 in terms of agreeable opinion. I do feel however that those in the favourable camp no doubt found The Witch to be a refreshing alternative horror which rewards followers who want to place a bit more thought in their horror films.