The Witch opens with a mystery. As the first shot bursts onto the screen, we see an entire family- William (Ralph Ineson), Katherine (Kate Dickie), Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson)- being excommunicated from Puritanical society in 1630s. The family moves out to the woods, completely alone and left to their own devices. Everything seems okay at first, but the family's youngest child soon disappears. It incites a panic within the family, and soon, as their religion fades and terrifying things begin to occur, chaos will reign within the woods as Satanism and godlessness run rampant. Creepy goat murders, weird sexual undertones and infant murder ensue.
But wait- will you actually enjoy this film? When people ask me about different horror films, it's usually a pretty straight "Yes, it's scary" or "No, it's stupid." And yet, there's an interesting note to make about The Witch. When the film was released on February 19, the box office was great (one of A24's strongest releases), but audiences resoundingly rejected The Witch by handing it a "C-" Cinemascore. Remember, this is a film that is certified fresh at 89% Rotten Tomatoes, stands at 83 on the consistently difficult Metacritic, and also has an army of horror fans that have deemed it to be a masterpiece. So which one is it? Masterpiece or failure?
There's definitely something more to The Witch, and that unsettling quality is the reason that the film finds a quiet place to stick in your brain and haunt you for days. Beyond all of the crazy aspects of this flick, there's a simple theme about the dangers of religious fanaticism (which is part of the reason the Satanic Temple endorsed the film, bizarrely enough). It took me a while to get to the point where I understood what director Robert Eggers was trying to say- again, this is a very slow-moving film, even at a mere 90 minutes. But when I finally grasped it, the film struck me in an interesting way. It's a scary thing to watch a family collapse completely, losing their faith, humanity and sanity. That's what The Witch offers. It's endlessly satisfying, but also incredibly unconventional- after all, how many horror movies that you've seen feature a haunted goat and a heavy breathing bunny?
The other breakout star of The Witch is director Robert Eggers, who immediately jumps into the conversation as a member of this new class of great horror filmmakers. Eggers' direction isn't overly flamboyant or intense- it's just laser-focused. Eggers proves himself as a master of atmosphere, utilizing the cinematography of Jarin Blaschke and Mark Korven's chilling score to create a mood of dread. So much of horror is about the right tone, and that's something that Eggers thoroughly understands, giving him loads of potential as a director.
The Witch is a bit of a tough watch. Even as someone who was incredibly excited to see this film, I found myself asking many times "Where is this really going?" The first half wanders a bit, even with the thrillingly gross scene where a witch kills a baby. But once Eggers truly gets rolling and once the true clash between Puritanism and Satan is revealed, this becomes quite a ride. It's filled with bone-chilling moments, ghoulish symbolism and almost instantly iconic images. It's a film that I think will continue to reward horror viewers for years to come.
THE FINAL GRADE: B+ (7.7/10)
Image Credits: Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Guardian, Joblo