The Witch is an artistic folktale masterpiece.
The Witch: A New-England Folktale is a supernatural, psychological coming of age, folk horror story that is highly originally crafted. It says: ‘This film was inspired by many folktales, fairytales and written accounts of historical witchcraft, including journals, diaries and court records. Much of the dialogue comes directly from these period sources.’
This is reflected in the language they speak, Old English, but also in style, behavior and how the story develops. It therefore has a unique style, creating an old fashioned world, bringing it back to life again. It’s a precautionary tale about faith, womanhood, strangers and disturbing family relations.
Although it’s a simple, clean story, it isn’t a simple watch. The Old English, the behavioral manners and the slow pace, that builds up towards an enticing ending compels you to watch it attentively. But the reward is well worth it.
Circa 1630 a family is cast out of their save community for being too rigid in their faith. Nearby a forest they build themselves a new home. Father William and mother Katherine keep to a strict faith, keeping their daughter Thomasin on a strict leash. Younger brother Caleb is treated less strictly and the young twins Mercy and Jonas are just innocent children.
But Thomasin is coming of age, and Katherine thinks she poses a threat to both William and Caleb, disarranging the family. When a baby Samuel is born and Thomasin is playing with him near the edge of the forest, he suddenly disappears. Thomasin is blamed for his disappearance and is accused of consorting with a witch living in the forest.
When Caleb goes searching for food in the forest with Thomasin and encounters the witch, he falls gravely ill, setting off some disturbing events leading to the family’s undoing.
Why you should watch it
The film has a slow pace that reels you in, in a hypnotizing manner. The tone and atmosphere of the film are spellbinding, like the witch in the forest has put a spell on not just the family but on the viewers as well.
However, you need to be open to this kind of cinema. It’s original, unique but isn’t very approachable. It’s very elusive in nature. Not only due to the artistic style of the film, but also due to the fact that it’s questionable if there’s indeed a witch or not hidden in the forest. Up till then it’s a psychological thriller that evolves around Thomasin.
The isolation, the dependance of only each other, their strict faith and no room for self development give a claustrophobic feel to the film, making it even more eerie than the witch herself. This witch stays an elusive mysterious figure, part surreal, part dangerously real, influencing the family in a very subtle way from afar, slowly setting Thomasin loose from her family and separating her. Her grip is ominous all the more while she’s mostly out of sight, for both the viewers as the family.
All these elements, a small group of people professing their faith in a secluded cult-like way. Isolated from the rest of the world, close to nature, leading to paranoia and violent acts resulting in death, also make this film a folk horror in disguise.
Instead of their faith helping them, it slowly drags them down into a self fulfilling prophecy, secluded from sin and temptation, their faith is even more tempting, destroying them. Creating paranoia, and seeking a scapegoat, other than Black Philip. The buck is an intriguing creature, devilishly black and supposedly talking to the twins, who are strange creatures themselves. If he’s indeed a portrayal of the devil or not, the thought is cause enough to increase the paranoia and tension.
But eventually the story is all about Thomasin. Everything that is happening, evolves around her. It’s her coming of age story, her womanhood that alienates her from her family and the opportunity for the witch to lure her in, leaving her no choice. The move was a damnation for both the family as for Thomasin, but opened up a new menacing opportunity.
The tone is dark, the atmosphere bleak and sombre, subtly increased by the foreboding music. The cinematography is bleak as well, with sharp contrasts between light and dark, creating ominous shadows, reflecting the undertone of the story.
Although it’s mostly a visceral film, there’s also some creepy body horror and some gruesome scenes, but always implicitly shown. The dark fairytale vibe that slowly descends like a downward spiral is excellently executed and an artistically delight to watch.
My favorite part
When the tension and paranoia aggravates up to a point that Thomasin is locked up in a cage with the twins and Black Philip, there’s more to the scene than is shown on the surface. The tension is tangible and something is very wrong, but there is no real evidence nor is there any reason than just a feeling that is has to do with Black Philip and the twins and that there’s more to them than is shown or told.
It’s never revealed either, so it’s just a creepy feeling in a most claustrophobic place, while Thomasin’s desperation grows. Because, what is more scarier than being locked up by your own family who distrusts you, who thinks you are a witch, and you have no-one or nowhere else to go to. It must be the most loneliest existence for her, and no wonder it ends the way like it does.
It’s an extremely well-crafted film, meticulously detailed, with great cinematography and artistic style creating a surrounding that is pure horror, without explicitly being a horror, leaving out the real body horror, creepy witch scenes or gore. Purely based on a visceral feeling that slowly hypnotizes and creeps up on you, leaving you with an unpleasant feeling.
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Cast and crew
The Witch is directed and written by Robert Eggers. It stars Anya Taylor-Joy (Thomasin), Ralph Ineson (William), Kate Dickie (Katherine), Harvey Scrimshaw (Caleb), Ellie Grainer (Mercy), Lucas Dawson (Jonas) and Bathsheba Garnett (the witch).
Duration: 93 minutes. Music: Mark Korven. Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke. Edited by: Louise Ford. Produced by: Daniel Bekerman, Lars Knudsen, Jodi Redmond, Rodrigo Teixeira, Jay Van Hoy. Production company: Parts and Labor, Rooks Nest Entertainment, RT Features, Code Red Productions, Scythia Films, Maiden Voyage Pictures, Mott Street Pictures, Pulse Films, Very Special Projects. Distributed by: A24.