I won’t lie, I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. The trailer captured my interest and had my attention in it’s two minutes and thirty one seconds. That was in August of last year. half a year later the movie gets a wide release and we finally get it in Tucson. Of course the review is SPOILER FREE!!!
My original Facebook post said this:
Trailers in the Darke – The Witch (2016)
Solid cast. Good atmosphere. A few jump scares. Looks to have good tension.
I am on board.
Now….was I right? Did it live up to my expectations?
Written and directed by Robert Eggers in his first theatrical full feature film appearance. Eggers has worked across the behind the camera in Art Direction, Costume Design, Production Design, and Art departments prior. This explains much of how he was able to capture and evoke something very disturbingly primal in the film. He admits that much of the dialogue and plot come from journals, folk tales, and myths of early colonial New England. It felt it. I heard dialogue choices that felt appropriate, I heard people talking like people…but from another era. I find myself hard pressed to think of another film in this genre and era that felt right…and oh so wrong at the same time. His script pulls no real punches and should it be found accurate, I would say this made me believe an aspect, a dark one at that, of Puritan colonial life could have looked like this. That a story such as this could inspire black emotions and torment, even if it was for private gain alone.
That I think is what struck me most in the plot and script. I can see all of the beats of a movie, but at the same time, I see a spark. I see that he touches on emotions and beliefs in the microcosm of this family that if explored wider could lead to a Salem, or worse Auto-da-fe. It was bizarrely natural and unnatural at the same time. The time is inferred, the place you only know as “The commonwealth”, leaving much to the imagination but also with acknowledgement that it’s irrelevant for the story. I was reminded of a conversation earlier this week where I mentioned I hated the Scarlet Letter in school, not just because I was forced to read it, but because I hated that Hester conformed to societal norms. This movie feels like the story I wanted to read. What happens when you take a devout family from their home, not once but twice, and force them apart from society? It was a fascinating, if not predictable, study.
Three of the main characters must carry the brunt of the work of the film. Ralph Ineson (a character actor from Game of Thrones, and many other films in sci fi and fantasy) and Kate Dickie (Lysa Arryn from Game of Thrones) are the parents who must ride a certain balance between fanaticism, family, and despair. They do so quite well and strike the balance better than most “significant” actors would. I find their performance more passioned, more honest, and in times more raw than many critical actors performances in similar roles. As the eldest daughter, Anya Taylor-Joy gets the brunt of the work and watching her performance as her character grows through the film kept me in my seat. I would like to see more of what she can offer Hollywood based on the performance here.
From a technical perspective, the movie is as near as I could tell 100% practical. The house, the farm, everything was practical. This goes a long long way when doing a supernatural suspense and horror film to give you the right feelings and evoke the proper tension as it’s all in camera for you. That of course leads to one of the few downfalls of the movie – it is the living definition of slow burn. The burn pays off, but watching the build up, watching the tension keep getting ratcheted higher took effort, and sadly a lot of the time. The music was a little too much sometimes reminding me a touch of Dark Knight with the strained violins. The camera work on the other hand is on point with great usage of frames for the scenes telling you what you need to know rather than dialogue.
I find myself surprised. Not at the quality, but that the film was mostly American made. It feels more like a project I would see come out of Spain, Paris, or German cinema. It’s a tight film and feels like Eggers worked for it and simultaneously had clear vision of what he wanted and was passionate about it. I am really happy with this movie. I found myself liking this movie more as I wrote the review. That’s rare!
Do I consider it scary though? No. Suspenseful – yes! It’s also not scary in the traditional sense we’re used to. The jump scares, the gore, that kind of horror? It’s not the only kind. This is a more real and all too relatable kind of horror. It is unsettling at times.
Do I think it worthy of the critical acclaim? Absolutely.
Is Jess going to buy it? YES!
Should you see it?
If you need something in this supernatural suspense genre, you should watch it. Consider this a superior counter offering to another Conjuring or Insidious. We all complain about not enough original coming out of Hollywood, well here you go. It’s original. It’s not based on a book, a remake, real events, etc etc etc… this is new. Celebrate it.
If this is your genre – please go see this and tell Hollywood we want more! I might go see it again just for that alone.