It recommendation time again, and this time for a new film I managed to get to to see last night; The Witch: A New-England Folk Tale.
This is one of those films that justifies why I retain my subscription to film magazines. Like The Babadook last year, I’ve been hearing good thing about this film for a while now, but hadn’t really seen any real marketing for it outside of the occasional poster. The kind of film which you will hear about if you’re interested in this kind of film, but otherwise will completely pass you by.
But if you like true horror films you can’t afford to let this one pass you by.
The film tells the story of a family of fundamental Puritans, recently emigrated from England to America and then expelled from their settlement due to their severe religious beliefs. Travelling into the wilderness they set up their new home on the borders of a forest. But when their new-born child disappears and their crops begin to suffer from a strange, they slowly begin to suspect they are the victims of witchcraft.
The first thing to point out is how amazing this film both looks and sounds. Using natural light where possible, and coming from a director who started out as a production designer, individual shots come across like paintings. Robert Eggers has an eye for beautiful, detail laden and atmospheric shots that just draw you into the world on screen. The dialogue, largely taken from documents and prayer books from the time is a thing of beauty to hear. A lot of that is down to the actors and a testament to their ability. As with most archaic language styles, such as Shakespeare, in the mouths of less skilled actors this dialogue would have come across as stilted and clunky. Not wanting to belittle the adults, its especially impressive that the words feel so natural coming from the child actors. For the most part, at least. There are some moments where they seem a little uncomfortable, but in no way enough to draw you out of the experience.
If you think horror consists jump scares, loud musical queue to make the audience jumps, pools of gore and sexual titillation, then don’t waste your time here. This isn’t that sort of movie. This is slow burning, unsettling, uncomfortable horror. The kind of film that builds over time to leave you tense and uncertain. This film oozes atmosphere. The setting and direction plays a big part in this – the religious fervour of New England in the 1600s is pretty much synonymous with witchcraft by now – but a lot of it has to be handed to the cast. After the disappearance of the youngest child, we slowly see them begin to fall apart; as sorrow, fear for their chances of survival, suspicions and folklore all combining as the supposed security of the family crumbles.
What’s interesting is how we’re never left in any doubt as to whether the Witch exists or not. The audience is shown there is someone in the woods from the very start, leaving us just one step ahead of the characters as to what is happening to them. It’s only the family that are uncertain of the cause of their growing misery. Fearful of the world, clinging to their faith as a shield against everything they can’t understand, trying to convince themselves they are simply being tested by God, rather than abandoned by him.
The Witch is a genuinely creepy film. The director manages to keep the pace slow while never losing the audiences interest. For all this is his first full length feature, it’s a masterpiece of cinematic horror. I’m slightly disappointed that his next film is going to be a remake of Nosferatu, but having watched this film I have hope and I’m far more likely to give it a chance. I’m really hoping that Robert Eggers will be bringing more films like The Witch in the future. This doesn’t come across a beginner’s luck, but something from a director who properly understands both the genre and the medium.
Unfortunately, as this is a small horror film it won’t be in cinema’s for long. That the latest comic book blockbuster is now in theatres will likely have now pushed it off most screens so it’s unlikely you’ll catch in it in cinemas. But I really urge you to grab this one on DVD.