Robert Eggers debut feature as writer/director, The Witch, is the kind of abstract horror feature that can either flounder in monotony or champion a kind of folk-tale methodology rarely seen.
Announcing itself ‘A New England Folk Tale’ the feature goes on to tell the story of a colonial family who, upon exile from plantation life, take up residence on the edge of a New England forest, to live the Godly life. Tensions climb and emotions blaze after the youngest of the family disappears from the would-be idyllic farm, eyes fall on the eldest daughter and from there…it doesn’t get much better.
Eggers has carefully built an incredibly uncomfortable piece of film that effortlessly strolls through horror drama with the skill and acute control of an intimate stage production. Each piece of the story is gorgeously and delicately put in place. Each line of dialogue; each cross word and worrying glmpse. Carefully chosen iconography from the history of witchcraft, along with a kind of infectious condemnation borrowed from The Crucible, keeps the atmosphere grim as Hell. Select images, sporadically introduced, induce an air of panic and mystery in the viewer, planting us in the position of horrified onlooker. Dark caves, bloody apples, towering trees of charcoal black, dark and degrading monstrous doings, all glimpsed briefly. It’s a treasure trove of Gothic Folk imagery. The aim though, is often to put us on the side of Anya Taylor-Joy’s distraught teenage outcast. We see horror and trauma from her POV most often. The family’s steady decline into paranoia is only horrifying because she, an innocent, will bear the brunt of it thanks to sexism. In this way, Eggar’s debut is also a rebuke and Postmodern variation on classic witch stories. The Witch looks at what could possibly send young women into the welcoming arms of a coven and the answer is relatively simple: abuse, powerlessness, and patriarchy.
Jarin Blaschke’s palette of miserable greys does much of the film’s work, ensuring that whenever dull sickly reds appear, they make you feel nauseous agaisnt the film’s relative lack of colour.. Every shot is loaded, every performance pitch-perfect. Particularly Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson who threaten to steal the show at every turn with a chemistry as tangible as the atmosphere itself. Seriously, Dickie is fantastic as the puritanical grieving mother, delivering a matronly performance that parallels her fantastic work in For Those in Peril, whilst Ineson’s overbearing patriarch becomes bolder and more unhinged with every scene that passes.
Incredibly evocative filmmaking, dark, mystic, horrifying, stunning, The Witch is a feature all by itself. Dickie and Ineson impress with towering performances, Egger promises a talent to look out for, and Blaschke just about instigates a nervous breakdown with intense visual control. And that’s without mentioning the invasively boisterous score from Mark Korven.
Dir. Robert Eggers
Stars. Anya-Taylor Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Julian Richings