Tweetable Takeaway: The Witch is a terrifying, suspenseful piece of period work that will crawl under your skin and stay there. Tweet
The plot of the modern horror movie often struggles to overcome the obstacle of technology. Why don’t the characters just use their cellphones, or drive away, or get the cops involved? A good chunk of plot needs to address and do away with these pesky logistical issues, leading to scenes in which we’re told there’s no reception or that car just won’t start. In THE WITCH, a film that takes place in 1630, none of that is necessary. Every safety net we take for granted is absent in this film. No phones, no technology, not even the comfort of civilization, as this story is centered on a family that moves into the wilderness to create their own settlement. And the result is a brilliantly terrifying film of a family being torn apart by all sorts of horrors.
We open on this family’s patriarch, William (Ralph Inesone), agreeing to leave a plantation. William, his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), and their four children head out and find a piece of land upon which to start their new life. Of course, there would be no movie if everything went swimmingly. After time passes, they construct a house and a barn, and a new sibling joins the clan. But the baby promptly goes missing while being watched by the eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), and in a gruesome scene, we see the fate of the baby, and see glimpses of what the titular witch. And from that moment forward, the woods surrounding this family are no longer just a collection of trees. Rather, the woods become a harbinger of doom, a hiding place for horror that may be lurking behind a tree or in the shadows.
But the horror comes from within, too, as Katherine holds Thomasin responsible for her baby’s disappearance. One of the children accuses Thomasin of being a witch herself. When the witch strikes again, the fabric of the family further unravels. Katherine begins to despise Thomasin even more. William finds he’s unable to provide enough food for his family. The tension is ratcheted up in every single scene. As mentioned above, a lot is due to the time period in which the film takes place. Even the smallest of problems are magnified considerably due to the family’s circumstances. If they run out of food, there’s no grocery store down the road. If someone gets injured, 911 can’t be called. There’s only one horse for transport, and if that horse goes missing, well, the situation just becomes that much more dire. Simply by virtue of the world these characters live in, there is an endless supply of nail-biting suspense for the audience.
Events continue to pile up and occur with more frequency as the family unit continues to crumble. The images and sounds conjured up onscreen are truly horrifying, and do not rely on jump scares, as many modern horror films are wont to do. To be sure, there are moments that occur spontaneously and surprise the viewer, but they aren’t accompanied by a shriek of orchestra, nor are they false scares meant only to elicit an easy scare. The frights in The Witch are carefully constructed and are meant to unsettle. There is no need for quick, easy jumps because of a loud noise in this film. Evil incarnate shows up more than once, and every time it does, the percentage for nightmares increases exponentially. And there’s at least one goat on the farm that will have you wondering if it’s more than just a goat…
The Witch is the best kind of horror movie, in that it crawls under your skin, finds somewhere warm to snuggle up, and stays there even after the movie ends and the lights come back on. The sets, the acting, the lighting and the intense score all contribute to experience of becoming fully immersed in the world of the film. Any horror buff should see The Witch, any lover of film should see The Witch, but anyone who lives near the woods might want to consider watching at a friend’s house.
I give The Witch 4.5 creepy goats out of 5
Score: 4.5 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor