The shadows gather around us once again. Take our hands and wander with us into the darkness where the monsters gather. We’re bringing you 31 horror reviews in October. Whatever you do, don’t let go of our hands lest you find out what truly goes bump in the night.
When it comes to the Halloween season, there’s no shortage of horror movies to choose from to get you into a ghoulish type of mood. Certainly, slasher flicks and jump scares can provide some fun entertainment during this time of year. Let’s suppose, though, you want something a little bit more substantial. Maybe you want to watch a horror movie that isn’t afraid to try something different. A horror movie that makes you think? That’s a pretty novel concept. Endorsed by the Satanic Temple, The Witch will get under your skin and into your mind in a way that other modern horror movies can only dream of.
Directed by Robert Eggers, The Witch (stylized as The VVitch: A New England Folktale) is a 2015 film that provides a fresh new take on the demonic possession subgenre that has become rather overused and stale as of late. Taking place in 17th-century New England, The Witch follows the story of a Puritan Christian family. The family is exiled from their community after a disagreement with the church. They start their new life in a small, remote farm near the edge of the woods.
The head of the family is William (Ralph Ineson), a very religious man with a holier-than-thou attitude determined to make things work. Katherine (Katie Dickie), William’s wife, is devastated after her infant son Samuel is kidnapped early in the film. Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) and Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) are the adolescent children in the family. Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) play minor roles as the younger children. The family also owns a few animals, most notably a peculiar black goat that the children call Black Philip. Oddly enough, the children claim they can speak to Black Philip. This detail will become crucially important by the end of the movie.
The family (William especially) goes out of their way to show they are Bible-quoting, God-fearing Christians. They attempt to follow the way of the Lord as best they can. However, paying attention reveals that each member of the family is deeply flawed in their own way. The titular witch very much exists in this movie, and she appears early on to prey on the family’s misery. Despite the presence of the witch, the viewer soon discovers that someone (something?) else far more sinister is manipulating their lives. By the end of the film, the entire family has fallen into ruin.
The Witch does not rely on cheap jump scares to invoke horror. Rather, director Robert Eggers does a masterful job of using atmosphere and storytelling to create layers of tension and dread. The film is continuously bleak, and is relentless in its disparity. It’s seeped into the deepest reaches of your subconscious by the end of its 93-minute runtime.
While Eggers prefers to go for discreet, slow-building, creeping horror, he does inject a few moments of shock value throughout the film to further unsettle the viewer. Most notable is a scene early in the film involving the witch performing a disturbing sacrificial ritual. Later in the movie, a scene involving a raven is so graphic that you can’t help but cringe and cover your eyes as you’re watching.
Helping things along is the acting, which is phenomenal throughout. Taylor-Joy is particularly fantastic as Thomasin, a sympathetic figure that’s been scapegoated and repressed by her mother. Thomasin also follows a path to ruin due to the events around her. Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of the character invokes sympathy from the audience. Thomasin is a tragic figure in The Witch, and Eggers expertly weaves her coming-of-age story throughout the dread.
In closing, if you’re in the mood to watch a horror movie that isn’t afraid to take risks and be different, The Witch may very well be for you…as long as you plan on calling a priest afterwards.