Robert Eggers directorial debut, The Witch, is an effectively creepy film set just before the Salem witch trials of 1692. It tells the simple story of a family cast out of their village who seeks a new life deep in the woods of the Northeast. They build a home, barn, a shed for their livestock and a field filled with corn. It is a large family, in addition to the parents, there are four children. Ana Tayor-Joy is Thomasin, the oldest and when her baby brother is kidnapped within the blink of an eye, her mother in not so secret terms begins to hold a real dislike for Thomasin. What was it that took the infant into the woods, though? The family believes a wolf is the culprit, at first but, as the film progresses, it seems that a far darker evil dwells in the woods behind their home. Is it a witch or something even more diabolical?
Robert Eggers has done most of his work in Hollywood as a costume, set and art designer. Up until The Witch he has only worked on a few film and some short films. But with The Witch he seems to know his way around writing and directing, as he has done with this film. The Witch is not an easy film to watch. In fact, a couple of people got up and walked out after only ten minutes. Granted The Witch takes its time to get going but once it does it really delves into dark and evil territory. This is methodically pace film with impeccable acting. They speak in the King’s English and I think that may take some people by surprise. The accents are quite thick and hard to understand in spots, but the name of the game for The Witch is mood and tone. On this level, The Witch shines.
Eggers directs this film with a real sense of impending doom as a family grapples with the loss of one child and possibly another. They tear at themselves and each other, blaming one another for the strife that has befallen them. There are even scenes in which Thomasin is accused of being a witch by her own family. We are seeing a family descend into madness and betrayal and Eggers knows what buttons to push in the viewer. The Witch is a stark, grim, unrelenting story about loss and isolation. Never once did I feel like I was watching a film. The story and acting is that solid. Eggers has written a literate and thoughtful script (based on actual folk tales from the time). Every performance is flawless and Mark Korven’s score is chilling.
The Witch is not a perfect film, but it what it does, it does well. The pacing is a bit slow to start and the dialogue is a bit hard to understand because the characters speak with such thick accents. But, the mood, tone and primal elements are the driving forces for this film. This is billed as a horror film and although there are horror elements to The Witch, I would consider this to be more of a psychological drama. It is on this level The Witch succeeds. It is not gory and has no jump scares, thankfully. It is not THAT kind of film. I will acknowledge that it is not for everybody, but if you are into a character driven period piece then The Witch is an effectively austere film.
The Witch- **** out of 5
The Witch- Rated R for nudity and adult themes
The Witch- Run Time is 90 minutes
The Witch is currently playing in theaters. Check you local listings for times and locations.