By Nate Willis, Entertainment Writer
In his directorial feature-length film debut, Robert Eggers (who previously worked as a writer, costume designer, and production designer on several short films) shows a great amount of potential in the slow-building horror genre with “The Witch”. Combined with the eerie score from Mark Korven, “The Witch” becomes an intense exploration into America’s dark past through a fictional lens. The acting was great all-around, especially from newcomers Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw, siblings who get caught-up in the cruel and unforgiving world of 1600s New England. An interesting note about “The Witch”: most of the dialogue comes directly from real folk tales from that era.
The story centers on a Puritan family who is banished from their New England plantation for vague belief differences. It quickly becomes obvious to them that living on their own in a wild area is harder than it seems. The father (Ralph Ineson) has zero capability of providing for his family, proving a failure at everything but chopping wood. From here, it’s only a matter of time before a combination of the forest, local witches, and the devil himself causes the family to completely unravel. It’s a very simple tale, probably taken right out of some book, but it’s Eggers’ ability to utilize the principle of “less is more” that makes this story truly horrifying.
The mood throughout is a blend of desperation, sadness, and sheer misery. The individuals are praying to a God that seemingly doesn’t hear their prayers, and hope soon becomes impossible to maintain. Ironically, Eggers uses this part of the film to promote this idea that humbling oneself before God makes one prideful in all other endeavors. Because of the father’s vanity in his certainty that God was on “his side”, he took on an endeavor that caused his family to be put in jeopardy.
For a horror film that relies on building tone so much, the score is probably the most important facet. Korven’s screeching strings and melodramatic tendencies force upon the audience the same misery that the characters are experiencing. This is what separates this film from your average horror flick. “The Witch” doesn’t rely on cheap “Boo!” scenes to try and get a jump from the audience, opting for a slow-moving feel that boils into a shocking climax.
Overall, I actually didn’t enjoy this film. While I can appreciate the good that Eggers has done for the horror genre, the misery that comes with watching “The Witch” was almost too much to bear. If relentless despair is something you look for in a film, then I would definitely recommend this film. If you’re like me and traditionally are not a fan of most horror films, go see Deadpool.
Nate’s Netflix Picks:
- Punch-Drunk Love
- To Kill a Mockingbird