– by David Morgan-Brown
If you, like me, feel a little immune to the terrors of horror films and just don’t feel that sleeplessly terrified by them, then maybe you ought to surrender yourself to The Witch (or The Vvitch, as it’s stylised on the poster), a very promising directorial debut from Robert Eggers who is already shoving aside jump-scare horror amateurs by giving us a hauntingly atmospheric and sometimes viscerally unnerving experience for his first film.
From just the first few opening scenes, we get a sense of what the movie is like. The dialogue is very of its time (some of it taken from real transcripts), the cinematography is very damp and disheartening, and the music is a loud and menacing cacophony of dissonant choir sounds reminiscent of Gyorgy Ligeti (and amidst the primitive landscape, it evokes the earlier scenes of 2001). Although this sort of style might feel a little too forced, it still puts the audience in a place of unease as these filmic qualities accentuate the ambiguously disturbing nature of the events surrounding this poor family.
Lead by the father William (Ralph Ineson), a family in 1630’s New England is banished from their town and are forced to live on the outskirts in the forest, where they set up their new home and farm. Soon enough, things start going badly. Their youngest baby, Samuel, very mysteriously vanishes but none of the family seem too devastated by this startlingly dramatic horror set-piece. After this wonky start, the terror thankfully gets abruptly honed to a subtler kind when the eldest Thomasin’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) horse lets itself loose in the forest, the dog is captured, the middle brother Caleb goes missing, and even more barmy stuff goes down as the Satanism of it all becomes more apparent, intensifying the hysteria (of the religious kind) in this worrisome family.
The first half of this film seems a bit flawed, plotting out dramatic conflicts before fleshing out the characters more beforehand, but this misgiving is made up for in the second half of the film, which contained a number of scenes that did something to me that most other horror films are ever able to do – make me feel scared. When the film gets into the proper Satanic going-ons, the possessed acting and unpredictable series of events make this all give off an other-worldy, spiritually messed-up spell onto viewers like myself.
The Witch is likely to be the horror film of the year, as it’s been getting critical acclaim all across the board, even receiving an endorsement from the church of Satanism who have described the movie as “an impressive presentation of Satanic insight” and is “a transformative Satanic experience” – high praise from an unlikely source. Eggers has been successful in building this timely world of fanatic scepticism that builds up the mistrusts and accusations into a barrage of religious insanity. Hopefully we can see something a little more refined in his later films, as The Witch already shows signs of an emerging new master of the genre.