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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 31.03%
Average: 3.45%
Pretty Bad: 3.45%
Total Crap: 3.45%

3 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Witch, The
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by alejandroariera

"Dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight"
5 stars

Genre cinema is enjoying a revival of sorts these days. And no, I am not referring to your run-of-the-mill superhero epic or galactic shoot-‘em-ups that dominate most of the genre fare coming out of the studios. While they have turned their back on the good old thriller (political, crime, psychological, take your pick), Argentinean and Spanish filmmakers are doing for the genre what Hong Kong filmmakers like Tsui Hark, John Woo and Ringo Lam did for the action film more than three decades ago: reinventing it with a brio, an élan, a gutsy go for broke spirit that is missing from much studio fare these days. The same thing is slowly but surely happening to the horror genre as some brave souls from across the globe try to liberate it from the gory shackles that have long kept it imprisoned. The list includes such disparate but singular approaches as Isaac Ezban’s Twilight Zone-ish science-fiction/horror hybrids (“The Incident,” “The Similars”); Ben Wheatley’s subtly twisted tales (“Kill List,” “Sightseers”); and “The Babadook,” Jennifer Kent’s update of the old “monster under the bed” theme. To that list you can now add Robert Eggers’ sublime, chilly and disturbing “New-England Folk Tale,” “The Witch.”

“The Witch” is so much more than a period horror story imbued with paranoia. It is the story of how this country’s Puritan roots cast a dark shadow over its long history. It is also about a teen facing her burgeoning womanhood in an oppressive and repressive society and of a man, her father, whose blind faith is put to the test. And it is also the story about the travails an immigrant family faces as they settle in a strange, new land. And yet, this multilayered story is a simple one as well; its visual and aural textures, however, are anything but.

It takes place sometime in the 1630s, decades before the country’s first official ideologically-driven witch-hunt (a literal one at that) in Salem. Puritanical Christians William (Ralph Ineson) and wife Catherine (Kate Dickey) stand trial for their extreme religious views. Banished from the compound by their peers, the couple and their five kids –unbaptized including newly-born Samuel and older sister Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) – settle on a farm near an ominous-looking forest. Things begin to turn for the worst when Samuel disappears into thin air while being taken care of by Thomasin. William blames a wild animal; Catherine blames Thomasin whose blossoming sexuality is drawing the attention of brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) who can’t keep his eyes away from her breasts. Thomasin helps matters little when she, in an attempt to scare twin siblings Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), tells them she’s actually a witch. And then there’s Mercy’s and Jonas’ unhealthy friendship with a goat named Black Philip. The crops are dying, the family is running out of money, William almost loses an eye during a hunting expedition, the family goat produces blood instead of milk, Catherine’s cherished golden cup goes missing, and a creepy hare keeps popping up unannounced. The family succumbs to collective hysteria when Caleb goes missing in the forest and returns to the stead in a comatose state: accusations fly left and right and the name of the Lord is invoked again and again to no avail. And what about the titular witch? Eggers, who won the Best Director Award at last year’s Sundance Film Festival for the film, cannily keeps her presence at the film’s margins, showing glimpses of her in action, adding to the sense of a family living under siege.

The film’s verisimilitude makes it even more unsettling. Eggers, whose background is in production design, and his production team built the family farm and the compound in northern Ontario using the same tools and construction materials the original settlers used; the costume designers created the film’s wardrobe using period accurate textiles. Composer Mark Koven incorporated 17th Century instruments to his eerie, hair-raising score (a strong candidate for one of the best scores of the year). Eggers even used the letters and diaries of the era to write the film’s fire and brimstone dialogue. Add to that Jarin Blaschke’s muddy, damp photography and you have a film that feels handmade and fully lived-in.

However, no world would feel fully lived-in without a strong ensemble and the casting choices made here are spot-on. As William, Ralph Ineson brings gravitas to the role of a man whose faith in God’s grand design is so strong that it blinds him to the real evil that lurks at his doorstep. And as the twins, Grainger and Dawson are perhaps the two spookiest kids to grace the big screen since the twin girls that haunted the hallways of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining.” But Anya Taylor-Joy is the true revelation: always center-framed by Blaschke’s camera, her Thomasin is both religious and rational, a woman trapped by her parent’s fanaticism yearning to be set free, afraid of what may lie beyond the woods and curiously attracted to it. Her wide-eyed gaze takes it all in, trying to make sense of the world she’s been cursed to live in.

“The Witch” is not the kind of horror movie that will have you at the edge of your seat or make you jump; you won’t be screaming your lungs off or clutching at your neighbor’s arm. It deals with a far more subtle kind of horror, the kind that burrows deep beneath your skin and fills you with dread. It is both supernatural and human. It conveys the fear and pain of a mother who sees her child struck by an unknown ailment. It is also about fear as a tool used by a religion that sees God not as a benign and just being but one that acts as judge and jury, a God that will strike you down if you stray too far away from the path. And what lies beyond this path for this family is something their faith and fear of God has left them totally unprepared for.

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originally posted: 02/19/16 07:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2015 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 London Film Festival For more in the 2015 London Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/29/19 Dr. Lao A thinking person's horror movie: which is why it was not a bigger hit 5 stars
2/13/17 morris campbell very disturbing but the ADD crowd should skip it 4 stars
9/12/16 the truth i want to live deliciously 5 stars
5/18/16 Langano Dialogue is difficult to understand making for a frustrating experience. 3 stars
3/23/16 David H. The movie M. Night wanted to make. 5 stars
3/03/16 orpy Seriously? This movie really sucked. 1 stars
2/27/16 Alexis H Those were dark times where you couldn’t be sure what to trust outside your faith 4 stars
2/21/16 FireWithFire I want to bugger Anya Taylor-Joy. 5 stars
2/21/16 action movie fan slow and confusing blair witch was much better and terrifying 2 stars
9/08/15 Matthew Gorgeous scenery & a terrifying story 5 stars
2/01/15 Simplefilmreviews One of the years best horror movies! 4 stars
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  19-Feb-2016 (R)
  DVD: 17-May-2016


  17-Mar-2016 (MA)
  DVD: 17-May-2016

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