There’s evil in the woods – grab your crucifixes and prepare for a hell of a time as the creepiest folktale in years is unleashed.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
1630’s New England. William (Ralph Ineson) and his family – pregnant wife (Kate Dickie), daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy), son (Harvey Scrimshaw) and twins (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) are banished from their Puritan Christian town for preaching their religious superiority. Months later, the family have built a house and farm next to a large, ominous forest and William’s wife has given birth. Soon after, the mysterious disappearance of the newborn child begins a series of bizarre and increasingly unnerving events, causing the family to turn on one another. Though the real force behind their undoing is something far more sinister – the black magic of a witch living in the woods…
The first thing you need to know before buying a ticket to see The Witch is that it is best that you know as little about the film as possible before entering the cinema. The second is that it is one of those very rare horror movies that will haunt you for days afterwards; if you’re easy to scare, get ready for some sleepless nights.
Debut director Robert Eggers must have a little satanic power of his own, because he’s managed to (witch)craft the scariest film in recent memory, possibly one to be remembered alongside the all-time classics of the genre. Traditional jump-scares are abandoned entirely for a gloomy, ever-growing sense of dread. It’s a genuinely uncomfortable experience, but an incredibly effective one that won’t leave you anytime soon.
The 17th century aesthetic is realised beautifully with visceral authenticity; the dull, washed out lighting emitted by the forever overcast sky perfectly sets an oppressive mood for our damned family. The old-timey 1.66:1 aspect ratio (framing vertically as opposed to horizontally) is equally effectual here as it was in last year’s Slow West, though here it has an almost claustrophobic feeling to it, as if designed to trap the viewer within this ghastly realm with no means of escape.
Eggers allows shots to linger on well past the point of suspenseful to become excruciating and terrifying, and every unnerving screech of Mark Korven’s fantastic score guarantees zero lapses in uneasy alertness. The dialogue – actually recreated from real 17th century writings – takes time to gain a grasp of, but is expertly utilised to further increase the authentic charm. Every careful detail seals Eggers as an enormously impressive writer and director to keep an excited eye on.
Almost equally astounding are the relatively unknown cast who comprise the cursed kin. Game of Thrones duo Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie are both lovable and loathsome as the distraught parents, but it’s the kids who really shine here – especially first-timer Harvey Scrimshaw as the young son, who may or may not have something very dark and disturbing within him, and Anya Taylor-Joy, whose star-making performance carries much of the film.
The film’s final third is bound to have some viewing through their fingers; astonishingly unpredictable and achingly tense as Eggers ramps the freakishly evil happenings up to an 11. More than just a great horror, it’s a rich film with heavy themes – including a fear of God creating a fear of something much worse – that lingers long after the credits; I knew soon after that I had to see it again. Of course, films like this aren’t going to be for everyone; its slow build, lack of in-your-face frights and dense dialogue is bound to put off those with shorter attention spans. But for the naysayers, the film has been officially endorsed by The Satanic Temple as “a transformative satanic experience”. Abandon all faith ye who enter.
The Witch is available in Australian cinemas from March 17th
Image (c) Universal Pictures 2016