Every year we get a couple of surprisingly different horror/thriller films, a director offering a new or forgotten style or unique stories that really terrify you. When this happens it becomes a trend to rave about it, last year we had It Follows, which was fairly impressive taking everything into account. This year it appears The Witch is that ‘different’ film, however ‘different’ doesn’t mean good, does it?
The Witch is Robert Eggers directorial debut as well as being written by him, the story is focused around a family that has moved to New England, the father William (Ralph Ineson), wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson). They live in a very remote area with woods surrounding their small farm, after several months Katherine gives birth to a baby boy and name him Sam. Thomasin is playing with Sam one day when the baby vanishes, this leads to questions and suspicions amongst the family, we as the audience get to see that the baby is stolen by the witch and smears herself in the baby’s mashed remains.
Katherine for days turns into a recluse, crying and praying to god all day in bed, never leaving. After one evening of hearing their parents argue about their situation with failing crops and loss of a child, Caleb and Thomasin sneak out in the early hours to go into the woods in search of food to help. Whilst out their dog spots a rabbit and chases after it which Caleb follows, somehow the horse Thomasin is riding is spooked and throws her unconscious. The following morning they haven’t returned and Thomasin wakes alone laying on the ground, while Caleb was lured by a witch. William is reunited with Thomasin but Caleb isn’t found until the following night by Thomasin when she goes to sort the goats out.
Once Caleb is found we are treated to a mini possession/exorcist moment which results in Caleb and the twins falling unconscious after claiming that Thomasin was a witch and had caused Caleb’s ‘illness’. This results in the twins and Thomasin getting locked in with the goats. Katherine spends the night hallucinating, seeing Caleb and Sam and proceeding to breast feed the baby, however we see the reality and a crow is actually pecking at her nipple. The next morning William wakes to find the Goat shelter destroyed, goats slaughtered, the twins missing and Thomasin with blood all over her hands. One of the goats named Black Phillip isn’t amongst the slaughtered goats and stabs William with his horns and then proceeds to kill and bury him under logs that were stacked by their house.
Katherine comes storming out of the house and attacks Thomasin which leads to her hacking her mother to death. A broken Thomasin walks inside puts her head on the table and sleeps all day, she wakes at night and goes into what remains of the goat shelter and talks to the goat (yes, the goat) Black Phillip which reveals himself to being the Devil and changes to human form. Thomasin writes her name in a book with the guidance of the devil as she can’t write, she strips naked and walks into the woods where there is a coven of witches around a fire. She approaches and they all start to float into the air, as this happens she appears to be laughing, the film ends with them in the air, symbolising that Thomasin has joined them.
There are many positives to this film but the main part, the story, isn’t one of them for me. Eggers in the past has had this idea rejected for being too weird and acknowledged that it would probably have to be made more conventional, but didn’t do that. Eggers and his team did something far more clever, they made a conventional trailer that would draw audiences in. It is fairly simply, the film won’t appeal to all.
The film in some ways is extremely clever, portraying an unnerving New England and creating a sense of unease at times for the audience. The direction from Eggers is great, the film is very thought provoking but that almost leads to its own downfall. Filmmakers have the luxury of being able to make whatever they want or at least come up with any ideas they want. In some ways you can look at The Witch as a masterpiece but for me it lacked the constant eeriness that thrillers live and die by. The films content is of such a high quality that your everyday horror jump scares don’t exist, which isn’t a bad thing, the film just felt very slow paced with moments of hope but failed to delivery with an ending that was stretching the boundaries of believability in a film made very realistic and raw.
The acting and music are what redeem The Witch to some extent for me, if the acting had been bad this film would have gone to shit. There are different types of films, ones you can just stick on when you’re at home and watch away while texting or whatever and then there are the films that you need to concentrate on, and in the nicest way The Witch is hard work to watch. Ralph Ineson, Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw were fantastic, most likely because they had the most screen time but nonetheless, they nailed it.
I go back to what I said at the start about ‘different’ films and whether this is good because it’s ‘different?’ I’m sure that’s why many do like it but there are many things to like about The Witch, the acting, music and cinematography all deserving a mention. Having read other reviews many seem to slam people who didn’t enjoy the film and claim that their not intelligent enough however, just because something has information doesn’t mean it’s not boring. The Witch is not a film I’ll see again but I will look forward to more of Robert Eggers work and hope that there are no goats.