The Witch

Director: Robert Eggers
Writer: Robert Eggers
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Released: 2016
In Cinemas Now

Reviewed by Paige Hally

Robert Eggers film The Witch took the festival circuit by storm last year, earning the first-time feature director the Best Director award at Sundance. While it is a horrifying film, The Witch is far from a conventional horror film. It’s a slow moving, tense, 1600’s arthouse period piece that explores fundamentalism and religious hysteria as we follow a close-knit, devout family’s descent into madness.

The film is set in 1630’s New England (pre-dating the Salem witch trials by over 50 years) where a small family is banished from their colonial plantation due to the father, William (Ralph Ineson), speaking out against the colony becoming too lax with their religious principles.

The rest of the family – consisting of William’s wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), pre-teen son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and two young twins Jonas (Lucas Dawson) and Mercy (Ellie Grainger) – are dragged along to start a new home in a clearing on the edges of an ominous forest.

As the family establishes their new home, a series of mysterious events start befalling them. First, their newborn child vanishes into the woods under mysterious circumstances, sparking suspicion and paranoia within the family. As their crops begin to fail and eldest son Caleb disappears into the forest, the suspicion is turned on teen daughter Thomasin, whose unconventional coming-of-age story is the heart of the film.

The film’s ambiguity is one of its strengths. It’s unclear whether the supernatural events are reality or the product of isolation and religious fervour and, although as viewers we know Thomasin is innocent, it’s hard not to think her family might be onto something when they accuse her of witchcraft.

Production designer turned Director Robert Eggers based The Witch on real court papers, diaries and reports on possession and witchcraft from the time, which along with the costume design and 17th century dialogue lends it a real sense of authenticity.

The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who’s stark, colour drained visual style adds to the sense of dread permeating the film.

The Witch is far from being a conventional horror film. There are no cheap scares, and minimal gore. Rather, the art-house thriller works to create an intense sense of unease and encroaching dread. While the pacing of the film feels like it drags at times, in the end the slow burn pays off in a devastating and terrifying fashion.

The Witch is a tense and unique horror film that will leave you with a sense of unease long after you leave the cinema.