Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Director: Robert Eggers
Running Time: 92 mins
The VVitch: A New England Folktale is an American film about a Puritan family who finds themselves surrounded by evil forces in the woods around their small farm.
Undeniably atmospheric throughout, The Witch gives an immersive and bold portrayal of a haunting in a traditional dwelling, complete with captivating visuals and strong performances. Unfortunately, it’s a film that doesn’t really cut through beyond the surface, never delivering the overwhelming sense of fear and peril that it aims for.
In that, The Witch is never quite as affecting as a horror movie as it is as a period piece. Its visuals are certainly the strong point, from its washed-out, deep grey colour palette to the minimalistic but very effective costume and production designs.
Director Robert Eggers goes all out to make The Witch as convincing a period folktale as possible, and on the surface does a fantastic job. With no more than six family members as main characters, the film is as small-scale as it gets, set in and around their small farm dwelling as dark forces begin to surround them.
The visuals are definitely outstanding, and go a long way to making the film as eerie as can be, but one other unique thing that can’t go without praise is the dialogue, which ingeniously makes use of period English to make The Witch even more immersed in its time period.
Films regularly try to use older forms of English as their main language of dialogue, mostly in the case of Shakespearean films, but it’s a device that can often prove incredibly distracting and, in more than a few case, make it harder to understand what’s actually going – if you’re not a scholar in period English.
The Witch, on the other hand, does a great job at using the language in a clear and effective way, with simple yet engrossing dialogue that deepens your understanding of the characters’ Puritan faith, and engrosses you further in the time period.
Unfortunately, however, while all of that does a lot to make the film an effective and immersive period piece, it does little to further the horror aspects of the story, which, for the most part, never hit the mark.
As eerie as the visuals make the film, it needs a further kick of all-consuming horror and peril to make it an overwhelming and fearful watch, but as it valiantly attempts to craft a more complex story about the nature of faith in relation to the haunting, it misses out on simple, unnerving horror thrills.
The film tries to leave you on tenterhooks throughout, wondering whether there really is a witch or it’s all in the family’s minds, but its attempts to misdirect your attention throughout as it builds up to a finale and leave you in the dark are generally unconvincing, and only serve to make the story a frustrating and inconsistent watch.
As a result, the film isn’t the emotionally harrowing, possessing horror thriller that it wants to be. It’s sadly not scary in the slightest, missing the mark when it comes to blending its eerie atmosphere with overwhelming fear and emotional terror.
Saying that, however, The Witch is a really effective period piece, and with striking visuals, clever dialogue and immersive directing, it makes for a captivating watch even when its horror doesn’t work, so that’s why I’m giving it a 7.0 overall.