Review: The Witch (stylized as The VVitch) is definitely not a horror that hard-sell cheap jump scares or excessively graphic imagery. It belongs to the rare horror entrees, which favor creeping atmosphere to crawl around and haunt audiences with discords. It immediately belongs to the rank of best horrors of the year; although for casual horror aficionado, it might look like a slow-burn scary-fest.
Dressed as a period piece, The Witch subtitled A New-England Folktale is like a forbidden tale, which is immensely confident in spicing up political and Christianity subtext with one of the oldest pageant folklore inspired by Salem witch trials—a trivia to Robert Eggers in his directorial debut.
Following a puritan family in the 1600s that gets exiled from their colony due to their different, pronely fanatic beliefs of Christianity. The Witch takes little introduction as a proud man, William (Ralph Ineson) brings her exiled family to woods-side where he builds a little farm. Little does he knows that the titular witch living in neighboring woods is secretly after his family.
Soon as they’re settling in, the witch takes their infant son, Samuel, for an enigmatic rituals. Since then, the family starts to crumble as the mother, Katherine (Kate Dicky) starts losing her mind and keep blaming her daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), as the scapegoat. But, that’s only the beginning of misery as William fails to grow crops, his eldest son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is losing in the woods; and the twins—Mercy and Jonah start to hear Black Phillip—a black goat—whispering to them.
The thing with The Witch is, it doesn’t attempt to scare the audiences. Instead, Robert Eggers is determined to make those audiences as uncomfortable and as confused as possible. Combining period horror features with elusive dialogues directly taken from the 17th century literature; grotesque imagery and discordant scoring, The Witch already alienates audiences. Its artistic decisions works in moving the plot forward as well as delivering the frights into real senses.
Visually it is magnificent in creating the ‘other’ sense of feeling, yet, the key to The Witch is actually its consistency to the basic horror tropes. There’s not much apparitions trying too hard to scare; the horror is much more inside the characters’ deepest fear as seen in acclaimed horrors of the recent year, e.g., The Babadook or It Follows. There’s some supernatural phenomena yet it’s not the main point. How people react to it is the point; how confusion and the fact that they know less are the essence of the horror. Yet, the best point of The Witch is its direct strike to beliefs, underlining that such kind of horror can happen to anyone, even the most devout people—in this case, William’s family.
Anya Taylor-Joy showcases a stark performance portraying a victim of an unexplained circumstance. Her performance resonates as the coming-of-age issue embarks in the heart of this wilderness. Harvey Scrimshaw as Caleb also manages to delve into a grown-up inside a kid, which gives complexity to child performance. Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie becomes a couple of devoted parents, with latent corrupted souls. All those broken personalities are orchestrated together into a visual discords—led by Black Phillip and minions.
As much as it is visually disturbing, The Witch wins the favor for a genuine fright dressed in psychological period drama. It’s elusive, enigmatic, and hypnotizing as it never lets go.