FORGOTTEN MASTERPIECES: The Witch (2015)
“There’s evil in the wood…”
"The Witch" (2015) follows a Puritan famild banished from their colony in 1600s New England, forced to build their own farm in the wilderness, bordering a daunting, uncharted forest. We follow their descent into madness, paranoia, and the unnatural as they face unspeakable evils.
In his magnificent feature debut, Robert Eggers presents a dark, gritty, and uncompromisingly realistic portrayal of isolated Puritan life during the initial years of American colonization.
Backed by a strong career as a production designer, Eggers holds an eagle’s eye for precision and efficiency on his set. His foundation in the bizarre and mysterious is cemented with his career as a short filmmaker, including adaptations of Hansel & Gretel, and Edgar Allen Poe’s eponymous Tell-Tale Heart. His experience in the world of the supernatural pays off, resulting in a stunning yet unforgiving view of his native New England home.
From the very first scene, the family’s banishment, the film will challenges our faith, both in God and in authority. Right away, William, the father, challenges the religious heads of the New England colony with a different interpretation of the New Testament, and for that they are banished. Eggers fears no controversy as he challenges thoughts on organized religion and patriarchal society.
We are given a taste of society so fanatically devoted to God, that they are willing to sacrifice everything, but when a challenge arises that threatens one’s family, how far does that faith go?
The people we follow believe that the woods surrounding them are the incarnation of evil, whether it is due to the Native Americans or the simple fear of the unknown. They see their successes as a triumph against the devil in the name of God, but when hardships arise, faith and the authority of the patriarchy, in this case William, is put to the test.
Anya-Taylor Joy makes a stunning debut as Thomasin, the daughter, backed by Game of Thrones veterans Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie as William and Katherine, the father and mother of the household. Harvey Scrimshaw also gives a game changing child performance as Caleb, the lustful, conflicted son of the family, putting other actors in his age group to shame.
Each of the actors are able to hold their own as they deliver the intensity of family tensions rise with the film’s progression.
The dialect of the film is both antiquated and difficult to master. Hollywood is plagued by poor portrayals of foreign accents, even by the biggest household names in the industry.
Having spent years studying old-English dialects and developing dialogue, Robert Eggers saves the film through pitch-perfect dialogue completely void of any error. His script is clean, concise, and clearly outlines Eggers’ vision.
"The Witch" is a historical horror experience unlike any other in modern cinema. From its meticulous atmosphere that challenges the likes of "The Shining" and "Jaws", to the jarring, disturbing performances brought upon by an underrated cast, the film’s masterpiece from a director wise well beyond his years cannot be missed.
Do not be mistaken. This is not your average commercial horror flick. There are no worthless jump-scares to throw you off guard. Instead, the film exacts its power with the fear of the unknown. Something is watching… from around the corner? From the farmhouse? From the woods? It could be anywhere. This is a film about paranoia. We experience this with the family as they turn on each other… as the black woods encroach upon them.
The perfect horror film doesn’t lay out a sequence of cheap scares backed by poor editing. A horror film unnerves us, taking its sweet time to build up tension, making us clench our jaws and raise our blood pressure and when the time comes, that tension is released in a brilliant spectacle. "The Witch" stays true to its word as a true horror film, creating an atmosphere of unease from the very first shot until the very last.