Horror-thon Day #5: The Witch

Day #5 brings us The Witch also known as The VVitch: A New England Folktale.

There are several things I need to open with. First is that if you’re looking for a fun horror film, this isn’t it. Second, it’s dark. Not just dark as in tone, but also dark in lighting. There are several scenes where you genuinely can’t tell what’s happening and finally, I thoroughly recommend watching this with the subtitles, otherwise you might have no idea what’s being said. This isn’t because of the old-world dialogue – it’s because there’s a lot of muttering and sometimes it’s just too quiet.

Moving on from that, let’s take a closer look at the directorial debut of Robert Eggers, The Witch.

As someone who has been obsessed with fairy tales and folklore since I was a kid, there was a vast amount to appreciate in The Witch. Inspired by writings, sightings and stories passed down through centuries, this film is a detailed and passionate love letter to fear and how it manifests. With references to Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Hansel and Gretel to name but a few, we’re given a story told through the eyes of a family cast out and isolated completely from the community their patriarch William has shunned.

Our main character is Thomasin, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood who has to shoulder the struggles and suspicions of her family when her baby brother Samuel disappears.

In a role met with critical acclaim, Anya Taylor-Joy plays Thomasin with an innocence that makes her portrayal heart-breaking throughout the film. She’s a forced to shoulder a lot of responsibility from a mother who is disinterested in her and taught that she’s destined for little more than a life of hardship and hellfire unless she works and suffers as her father believes is right.

This is a family built on a fear of god, and lies.

They live in fear and they live in solitude, right on the cusp of a twisted, dark woodland that is the physical manifestation of that terror. It could have been easy to create this film around religious paranoia, instead, we’re shown that these people should be scared – there’s something terrible living in the trees. With shape shifting animals, disembodied chanting and the possibility of becoming completely lost, the woods are an amalgamation of the family’s struggle – they’re wayward, confused as to what direction to take and without purpose. They don’t know who to be or what to follow. This is a family so obsessed with sin that even with pure evil under their noses (in the form of a goat named Black Philip) that they conjure additional demons in their heads and point fingers constantly.

And essentially, that’s what the plot of the The Witch is, when you boil it down to its bare bones. The family is plagued by poor luck, whether it’s a curse or simply a result of their choices is left to the audience to decide, but Katherine (the mother) is so sure of their misfortune that she’s determined that they’ve been abandoned by God. Thomasin meanwhile must try and keep control of her misbehaving little siblings (who are absolute shits. I mean it. They’re horrible) whilst doing chores and trying to squeeze some affection from her parents.

You really feel for Thomasin because when it comes down to it, her only good and strong relationship is with her younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw, who is phenomenal in this, a little over the top at times, but it has purpose) and unfortunately, even that ends sadly.  

This is not a happy film. It’s a film of detail, great research has been put into historical accuracy. The costumes, setting, location and manner of speaking are all convincing. But even the details which are fantasy are created with such purpose that it really brings you in the world.

We’re given a handful of scenes which are pure horror and whilst they’re very full on, we don’t see the worst. We’re given before, we’re given aftermath. I don’t want to go into too much detail as I feel it would take away from the impact if you’re going to be watching it for the first time, but there’s a scene early into the film that made me wince. Again, its because of the detail – what we’re shown is suggestive enough to let us fill in the gaps.

This is a film that deserves to have essays written about it. I’m serious. There’s so much to talk about and I’m very quickly running out of time because we left it very late in the day to watch this. I would like to return to this at some point and take a closer look into it. The ending by itself warrants a lot of discussion.

I genuinely appreciated this film, the effort that went into it and its artistic direction. The cast were committed and exceptional because it couldn’t have been easy physically and emotionally to make this film. The score, oh the score. At times we’re given a violent chorus of strings, other times chanting. Sometimes its subdued, but always threatening to rise, bubbling under the surface like the tensions in the family. This film, is so very, very detailed.

Thank you for reading, tomorrow I’ll be looking at The Guest. I’d love to know your thoughts on The Witch, comment below or let me know on Twitter!

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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