THE WITCH review by Grady May – this haunting period piece redefines the horror genre

THE WITCH review by Grady May – this haunting period piece redefines the horror genre

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The Witch centers around an extremely religious family whose father William (Ralph Ineson), denounces the members of his plantation for not being more gospel-centric in their church services. The entire family is promptly banished, forcing them to leave the safety of the plantation. Set in 1630 New England, this devout family is now forced to live at the edge of the wilderness, with five children. When their newborn son suddenly vanishes, and their crops become inedible, the family starts to turn on each other. Despite what the trailers might imply, The Witch isn’t about scenes that make you jump out of your skin. There are no cheap scares, or predictably clichéd scenes intended to make you scream. This is a movie written, directed, and beautifully filmed with the utmost care, and attention to detail. The depressing backgrounds, of low gray skies and a feeling of despair, really draw you into this family’s misery. The pace is slow at times, but perfect for what really is a study of a specific era.

Everything about this movie is riddled with paranoia. From the scary unknown of the woods, to the black ram that “speaks” to the mischievous children, to Thomasin’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) innocent demeanor… you don’t know who to trust. After Thomasin somehow loses her baby brother Samuel while playing peek-a-boo, it sends her overbearing, and deeply religious mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) into a tailspin. Katherine prays day and night while sobbing incessantly. Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), the second eldest child, is a curious boy who tends to find himself in precarious situations that will leave you with a feeling of horror. There are scenes in this film that might make you wonder if you should really be watching this. If you are easily disturbed then this film is not for you. However, if the trailer piqued your interest at all, then you will not be disappointed.

Robert Eggers, writer/director of The Witch, began his career as a production designer. His experience really shines through, as Eggers captures the weight of oppression that befalls this New England family. Even when the film is slow at times, it has your mind racing wondering what will happen next. The Witch is Eggers’ first attempt at directing a feature length film, and he does an outstanding job. While most of the movie is a bleak canvas, almost devoid of color, when color finally comes it arrives with a vengeance. The mood and tone of the movie are spot on. Mark Korven’s score is a masterpiece of dissonant strings, mixed with violent chants and some very unnerving thuds. The music adds tension to shots that would otherwise seem slow and monotonous. It transforms an ordinary goat called Black Phillip, and a brown rabbit that sits and stares, into mysterious creatures with evil desires.

In a time where recycled and rehashed films are the norm, The Witch breaks the mold. This production is creative, unique, and filled with surprises. Rather than rely on the standard horror template, which some call “torture porn”, Robert takes a different approach. Instead of going for shock value, he instead uses the concept of horror to instill fear into audiences. The slow but steady pace, coupled with the unnerving score, keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. The amazing thing about the film is even though it has demonic undertones, and scenes that might cause you to lose some sleep, it’s basically a period piece. Robert took real life accounts, and widely held beliefs of this time period, and spun them into a petrifying portrayal of the effects on the human condition when isolated from society. My hat goes off to Robert Eggers for his intense passion and dedication to the craft of filmmaking.

THE WITCH does not have a release date yet, but comes out in 2016

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