By Lewis Lockridge // Contributing Writer
From writer-director Robert Eggers in his directorial debut comes The Witch, an original folktale that follows a Puritan family’s descent into mania following a child’s abduction, when they begin to turn on one another like a pack of wolves.
Set in the 1630s, William (Ralph Ineson), his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their four children leave their New England plantation and make a home in the woods, due to a disagreement of beliefs. Several months in, the family has built a house and a farm, and Katherine has given birth to their fifth child, Samuel.
One day Katherine asks their teen daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), to take Samuel for a walk. They end up near the woods, and a game of peek-a-boo turns into an witch kidnapping the infant. William, however deduces that the child was taken by a wolf. Followed by the child’s disappearance and the farm’s inability to produce crops, the family begins to turn on Thomasin, and soon one another, under the impression that Thomasin is involved in witchcraft.
The film won a directing award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and has been praised by critics. However, the spell that The Witch casts on its audience is questionable. Almost like taking a page from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, The Witch is supposed to be psychologically thrilling rather than relying on jump scares. The only problem is, the film’s horror scenes are overshadowed by the loud and boisterous background music. While the technique works in, say, Hitchcock’s Psycho, it doesn’t work here; the music plays so frequently viewers may catch themselves begging for 10 minutes of silence.
Similar to The Crucible or The Scarlet Letter, viewers get a sweet taste of religious intolerance and how fixation on sin can be truly maddening. But The Witch’s slow plot progression turns it into such a snooze-fest of Biblical proportions that we don’t even pay attention to how scary it should be. The film gets so caught up in its lack of progression that by the time the conclusion comes around and we know the family’s fate, there isn’t much left to do and it’s almost insulting to watch. In addition, the two-dimensional characters that make up the movie aren’t fully explored, and thus we’re given little true explanation in the conclusion itself.
Despite this, though, Eggers provides some unsettling (and sometimes gory) visuals. With dark skies and a stunning location on the outskirts of New England, he does manage to add to the film’s already haunting plot.
Overall, The Witch is too slow and too boring to be Hollywood’s next breakout horror film, but instead stands on par with being a straight-to-DVD movie you would watch with a group of friends on a boring Friday night.
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