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“The Witch” Underwhelms Despite Effective Direction


By James Preston Poole

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Every year it seems a new horror film is hyped as the reinvention of the genre. Right on cue for 2016, “The Witch” takes on that role.

 

Giphy

Giphy

 

Opening to rave reviews at Sundance 2015, “The Witch” follows a puritan family led by patriarch William (Ralph Ineson). The family is excommunicated from their 17th Century New England Community, and after roughing it in the wilderness, they eventually settle upon an abandoned plot of land.

 

Something is amiss in their new dwelling, as multiple eerie events start happening. It all starts with the kidnapping of the family’s newborn child. A supernatural air quickly prevails as the mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) accuses her eldest child Thomasin (Anna Taylor-Joy) of being a witch. This begins to slowly tear the family apart.

 

“The Witch” does not accomplish much bit it does create a great horror film atmosphere.

 

Giphy

Giphy

 

Director Robert Eggers creates a constant feeling of unease through the stunning cinematography of Jarin Blaschke and the haunting score by Mark Koven. Impressively, the film also nails its period detail. The 17th century film feels very tangible rather than a hokey imitation.

 

The raw emotion of the piece is palpable, due to Ralph Ineson and Anna Taylor-Joy performances as compelling protagonists.

 

William and Thomasin’s characters are explored, but Eggers never completely lays their intentions bare. The ambiguity is compelling. The younger actors perfectly execute their parts, with Harvey Scrimshaw doing an excellent job as second-eldest child Caleb.

 

Ralph Ineson (Giphy)

Ralph Ineson (Giphy)

 

Unfortunately, the film itself, feels a bit…uneven.

 

I get a slow burn, I really do. Yet here it really feels as if Eggers and company get so wrapped up in religious themes and production design that they almost forget to tell a compelling story. The film is subtitled “A New England Fairytale”, yet how many fairy tales do you know are this slow?

 

To the film’s credit, when things get going, they really get going. The third act is tense and takes some unexpected turns that left me gasping for breath. As soon as a certain event happened in the film, I felt myself more engaged than ever. Yet, at a crucial moment of my enjoyment, Eggers cuts to black and the movie ends.

 

That is where the film fails me.

 

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Giphy

 

During the film, many insanely intriguing ideas are brought up, but are not given their proper due. The film’s attempts to shock falls flat, giving a “been there, done that” impression in many moments.

 

As much as I hate to say it, “The Witch” did not do much for me. Maybe it was high expectations going in, maybe it was the excellent production that fooled me into thinking I was going to see something special. What I got instead was a decent flick that barely qualifies as horror, let alone “great horror”.

 

I genuinely think this could be one of the few horror films where a sequel could improve heavily on the misgivings of the original.