As we know, the horror genre is a rather dying one. In this case, filmmakers are forced to think up new ways to terrify their audiences. Some have failed, while others have truly succeeded. I think that director Robert Eggers definitely went far and beyond with the latter when he released his mesmerizing 2015 thriller The Witch. Not only does this film take you into some very dark places, but it also succeeds in taking the usual cliches of other horror films and turns them on their heads.
The story takes place in New England during the 17th century, where a devout English Puritan couple, William and Katherine, take their five children to a new farm on the edge of a forest. They try to live the most simple of lives, until their newborn is kidnapped by a mysterious woman. Things go from very bad to worst as their crops fail, and they start to turn on each other. The couple’s other son, Caleb, dies under unknown circumstances, and they accuse their oldest child, daughter Thomasin, of witchcraft after the events start to happen. The accusations linger further, especially because of her newfound power and burgeoning sexuality. The film leaves us to wonder was she really the witch, or was there much more evil than meets the eye?
The Witch is an incredibly spooky descent into Gothic madness, but it is really an accurate tale of a family unraveling, in which their fears and anxieties start to catch up with them. Eggers places a keen eye of the evils of humanity instead of shining a quick light and running away with a giggle. It is a period piece, but its a brilliantly constructed one, where everything comes together to create an eerie atmosphere of doom and uncertainty.
What makes it even better is the cast, although not big names, but more authentic actors delivering remarkable and low-key performances. Anya Taylor-Joy is a stunning discovery as Thomasin, whose point-of-view is the one we follow on her journey to womanhood and understanding what exactly is going on. Ralph Nelson and Kate Dickie are amazing as William and Katherine, the couple who are trying to deal with the unexplained happenings as well as coping with children who know more than they should. Harvey Scrimshaw gives a wonderful performance as Caleb, whose death scene is as emotionally draining as anything else seen in movies in the last ten years.
I really thought that this film would have made a great Criterion title because it just that good, but it is good to have it anyway in this release. There are only a few special features, but they do give great insight into the film and its origins. They include the director’s commentary, a featurette called The Witch: A Primal Folklore, a Salem Panel Q&A, a design gallery, and trailers including those for Green Room and Mojave.
Director Eggars is a name that people should remember, and I’m definitely looking forward to his next project. For those horror fans who are looking for something original and new, look no further than this horror masterpiece.