In the past few years, several quiet understated visions of terror have exceeded the expectations of both audiences and filmmakers. Films like The Babadook and It Follows have revolutionized the state of modern horror. Following in their footsteps, is possibly the most subdued and unnerving film of the bunch, The Witch.
The Witch follows a family of settlers from the 1600s, who are banished to a mysterious forest. Within the confines of the never-ending trees, they begin to turn on one another. Accusations of witchcraft arise from deep rooted family secrets and visions of evil. As the family descends into madness, the audience is left to wonder if it’s just hysteria or if something sinister is lurking in the woods.
The best thing about The Witch is that it’s so unobtrusive. The film presents the events as they occur, and allows the audience to just drift along with it. Too many films today, seem to feel the need to verbally explain every detail of the plot, as if viewers are too simple to figure it out without help. The Witch requires horror fans to bring themselves up to the film’s level. The Witch stands up there with the likes of The Innocents and the early works of Polanski. These are deeply psychological movies that hide their most shocking concepts in plain sight.
To go along with the tense plot, there is the gorgeous cinematography. To highlight the oppressive world of Puritanical New England, the film is composed of moody blues, stark whites, and velvety blacks. Amid all this darkness is the occasional flicker of candlelight or dying rays of sun. The camera movement is elegant and restrained. Dramatic movements are used exclusively to showcase crucial scenes. The combined result is a heavy gothic spectacle reminiscent of a Rembrandt painting.
Now all of this would be incomplete without the commanding performances of this tiny cast. At the center of the film is Anya Taylor-Joy who plays the unfortunate protagonist, Thomasin. Taylor-Joy is able to capture the many facets of her character. On one hand she is a proper, reserved young woman plagued by the anxieties of early colonial life. On the other hand she is consumed by rage and perhaps unspeakable evil lurking in her soul.
In addition to Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson and Katie Dickie are outstanding as the matriarch and patriarch of this dysfunctional family. Dickie as the mother portrays a woman broken by her grief over a missing child and a horrible secret. Dickie is able to make her character sympathetic, if not relatable. Even when she is on the brink of sheer madness, one can’t help but feel for her. Ineson as the father is terrifying. His demeanor and vice grip command over his family is goosebump inducing. He is particularly creepy in his scenes with Taylor-Joy. My stomach was in knots every time he appeared on screen. Add in some of the creepiest children since Let the Right One in, and The Witch is a goldmine of performances.
I can’t stress this enough, The Witch is a film that any self respecting horror fan must see. It may in fact be my favorite horror movie of the year, so far. The evocative setting coupled with tight suspense makes The Witch an unparalleled film. I’d rank The Witch up there with other great witch hunt films like Witchfinder General and The Crucible.