According to some people, there is only allowed to be one good horror movie a year. Something that is clearly leagues above the rest in terms of story, production value, acting, and whatever. Last year it was It Follows, the year before that The Babadook. In 2013 we had The Conjuring, and if I can plug my own favorite for 2012, I’d say Sinister.
Without watching The Witch, you can tell it is the type of movie that would love that distinction. Hell, it was a horror movie that played in festivals. That is a rarity.
It also very early in the year, most of the best films have come out in the second half (except for It Follows). All I can really say about 2016 before this movie is that it surely isn’t The Forest and it definitely isn’t The Final Project.
Creepy mood lighting: Perfect for scary hiding witches.
In the early 1600’s, America was a scary place. You lived on the plantation with other settlers, you did what you were told, you survived attacks from the natives, and you struggled to survive. To be banished would be akin to death. But for one family, they accepted banishment. The patriarch, William (Ralph Ineson), was a devoutly Christian man and he was upset with the plantation church. He disagreed with them on the book of God, and so he accepted the banishment because he knew the Lord would provide for his faithful family.
So he took his wife (Kate Dickie), oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), slightly teenager son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and young twins Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson), on a cart into the world to find their new home.
Well after a few months they have a sizable farm. A house, a barn, some sheds. They have grown corn, have some goats and chickens and are surviving. Oh, and the wife gave birth to a baby boy, Samuel. Oh, but the corn crops have developed a rot and most of it isn’t edible. And while Thomasin was playing peek-a-boo with Samuel, Samuel disappeared. They can’t find him and assumed a wolf took him. But maybe it was something sinister? Maybe a witch?
These are only the first of their many problems. Distrust, poorness, hunger. And maybe a witch is causing tiny issues to grow their family apart. Maybe it is all just their own religious fears and puritan values causing the anger. But bad auras are afoot, and no one can save them now.
Also featuring Bathsheba Garnett and Sarah Stephens.
This is a scariest forest than the forest in The Forest.
The Witch was directed and written by Robert Eggers, a man who clearly loves his job. The level of realism in this movie is incredible. From the outfits, to the language, to their principals and actions, everything just seems to make sense. I didn’t find myself shaking my head, wondering why a character did something. No. They all have their reasons and make perfectly logical decisions for their character based on the events unfolding around them. It is fantastic.
You might be wondering if I am actually saying that this is a “horror” movie with great acting, and I totally am. They all sound like they have been speaking that dialect their entire life. Admittedly, the dialogue at times is hard to understand and I don’t pick up every important word. But the point is still made and that point is authentic as fuck.
I wouldn’t describe The Witch as the scariest movie ever, but it is definitely extremely unsettling and it feels downright evil. This is a slow burn horror film. You are frightened because you are living in a Puritan family’s world, facing their real fears and taking on the world as they see it. It is very religious based, and that type of horror can affect someone on the psychological level.
For those who aren’t familiar, one big aspect of the Puritan Christianity is they believed that when they were born, they were pre-selected for Heaven or Hell. Most people were selected for Hell and there is nothing they could do to change their outcome in life. Clearly those meant for Heaven would do great things, and everyone else would have faults and be bad. But they couldn’t help it. So succumbing to your fate and living in constant worry was just some of the many things you would do during this time period.
The witches they show in this film also feel authentic. Eggers based everything on this film on primary sources of the time and it just adds to the downright creepy realism. I should also add the score created great tension with heavy violin play, and allowed the audience to get frightened without any cheap jump scares.
The Witch is hard to watch, frightful, and it is clear that everyone involved put everything they had into it. It is the type of horror film I could see myself watching again and again, just needing a few months or years of downtime in between.
Go home 2016, this is probably the best horror film of the year and one of the best films of the year.
4 out of 4.