The Witch review
Today’s movie The Witch finally addresses two things that aren’t just scary, but terrifying; historical prejudices and a trapped location. The early seventeenth century marks the earliest of American history, not too long after the pilgrims made a home for themselves in the New World. With a land that was mostly unknown and passage back to Europe taking weeks, that’s a great example of a location where you have no choice but to face it head on. Even without the possibilities of something supernatural, there’s still animals and Native American attacks that could prove forceful and frightening.
At the time, the pilgrims left England as they felt the religious standards were too lose and wanted to practice without ridicule. The last thing you want is to be stuck with pilgrims as their moral beliefs steam from the ideal that if someone is acting out of the ordinary, then they must have made a pact with Satan. This would even lead into the famous Salem Witch trials that persecuted several people that were have thought to have practiced witchcraft. While this film is set decades before those trials took place, The Witch paints a scary picture that would make any fundamentalist into a pilgrim.
Within the early days of the New World, William (played by Ralph Ineson) is even more religious then his fellow pilgrims, deciding that he and his family need to leave the plantation and search for their own home. He settles on this parch of land where he builds a farm and try to make a life for his wife Katherine (played by Kate Dickie), eldest daughter Thomasin (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), eldest son Caleb, twins Mercy and Jonas, and baby Samuel. Things get creepy right away when Samuel is taken while playing a game of peek-a-boo with Thomasin.
Katharine spends her days crying to god while Caleb and William do their best to hunt to feed their family. Thomasin overhears that her parents want to send her to another family now that she’s approaching womanhood. This put more tension within the family as crops are failing and are not even sure they will have enough food during the upcoming winter. Caleb then goes missing during a hunting outing with Thomasin’s twin sibling accusing her of being a witch. When Caleb is found close to death, more eyes from the family blame Thomasin for the bad things happening, despite her innocence.
The Witch is film that scared me more then half of the horror movies I’ve seen in the past three years. A lot of it has to do with the setting as the entire story feels unsettling. The dark imagery of the forest, the farm and even a simple dinner feel threatening as if there is no escape from any danger.
Anya Taylor-Joy is a total breakout as she represents the last of innocence that any girl would have, regardless of that time period or now, within this circumstance. She carries the movie well enough that we wanted to see whether she’d escape.
The story manages to remain more layered then it needs to be. With little explanation on what the monster is here. The filmmaker understands that the scariest ideas may not be the unseen force, but rather the people that start to look at you at the first sign on trouble.
I would love to watch this again, though subtitles would be a welcome addition. Everyone talks in an older, Middle-English tone that makes the setting more alien, though a little hard to understand. Slasher fans may find this too slow, but it freaked me out.
I’ll give this five black goats out of five. The Witch is everything I want in more horror movies; a total feeling of creepiness, a defenseless set of people, and a unique setting. I’m sure that more horror writers will take inspiration from this.