Review: The Witch

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By Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

 

 

We often take for granted all of the conveniences we have at our fingertips. Some 15 years ago, no one had a cell phone and you had to use a landline phone and remember people’s actual phone numbers, or write them down on those flat things called paper, like our ancestors. Today, memorizing a phone number is a thing of the ancient past. But what if we go back even further, to the time when there wasn’t even electricity or running water? Back to a time where all of the information you could ever want was at the push of a button. Back to a time where religion and superstition ruled the daily lives of people. Writer/Director Robert Eggers does just that, taking us back to the early 1600’s, before the Salem Witch trials, in his film, The Witch.

 

William (Ralph Ineson) is a pious man, devoted to God. When he goes against the ruling of his colony, believing it does not follow the will of God, he, his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their five children are banished and must find a place to live and build a new home. They find the place chosen by God at a clearing to a forest. They rely on their oldest child, the daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) to look after her younger siblings. Tragedy strikes, however, while Thomasin is playing with the baby, and looks away for a moment then turns back to find the baby gone, and a baby’s cry is heard from within the forest. With the loss of a child, the family believes a witch may have taken the child. Blame starts to be placed, and the family begins to spiral out of control as further tragedies strike, along with other unexplained events. Is there really a witch living in the forest tormenting the family, or is it something made up in their minds, allowing their fears to slowly destroy the family they have?

 

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First and foremost, Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke bring out the very core and essence of what it was to like during this time period. From the muted greys and greens of the surrounding landscape, the humble ways of cleaning and cooking food, cutting wood, hunting animals, to the “need” to pray if someone is sick or you need more food, water, etc. The music provided by Mark Korven also adds to the bleakness and reality of such an existence. But what Eggers does best of all is make this story about witches, which would normally be considered a suspense/horror film, and really carries itself forward without the need to put in unexpected jumps and scares. The entire tone brings a level of eeriness and makes us uneasy in our seats. The fact that this family appears isolated from the world adds to that uneasiness, and when things start happening, and family begins to turn on family, a new level of fear is stoked in us. It takes us to the very final scene of the film where there is a jaw-dropping moment and we need to decide for ourselves if what happened was really the work of a witch.  Eggers masterfully crafts this film, setting it apart from other horror genre films in a similar design, to stand out as a unique and completely artistic piece of film.

 

Watching the film, even the biggest movie buff around you will be hard pressed to name a film you’ve seen these actors in before. And the best thing about that is the fact that these performances are absolutely brilliant, especially that of Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw, who portrays the eldest son, Caleb. I watched the performances from both of these young actors and couldn’t imagine many adults playing the scenes any better than they were done. There are a handful of scenes with these two young actors where it’s hard to imagine Eggers explaining to these kids exactly what he’s looking for in the scene to the point he’s able to completely get across his needs and get the perfect performance out of the actors. But her was able to get what he wanted across to the point that these scenes deliver so much dread and an ominous mood that we forget we are watching a film; you become so pulled in to what is happening. Truly genius!

 

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Period pieces generally don’t tend to do very well in theaters, and rightfully so: it’s hard torelate, especially when, given the same situation, we could just make a call on our phone or Google what is happening around us for answers. Yet, due to the fact that these aren’t available, and the fact that people lived by a different creed and way of life during this era, we realize the deep effect superstition and fear played on the lives of a populace and had the ability to turn people against one another, no matter the relationship or bond they possessed. The Witch is a haunting story with some of the best performances you’ll see in this early year. It doesn’t have the cheap scares we come to expect from many films. Instead it builds up a fear inside of us that sticks around long after leaving the theater.  It’s easily one of the best films to come along this early into the film season.

 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


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