Review - The Witch

The Witch (2015), R, 92 minutes - Some of you may be wondering "what on Earth is Tim doing seeing a horror film on opening weekend?".  Well, there's a story behind that and I'll try to keep it as short and sweet as possible in case you haven't read my Most Anticipated Films of 2016 post.  I first became aware of this film sometime last year after writer/director Robert Eggers took home the Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic category at the Sundance Film Festival.  His name sounded familiar immediately, but I couldn't place why.  After a conversation with my younger sister, I came to the realization that he was the same Robert Eggers who was a friend of childhood neighbors of ours growing up in New Hampshire.  I'm not going to be 'that guy' and claim to know him, because I didn't, but the very loose friend-of-a-friend connection did help pique my curiosity in his work.  I hoped that this independent horror film would come to my area, so when I noticed that it was showing at The Grandin Theatre here in town, I jumped at the opportunity to check it out.

Steeped in New England's rich history of (supposed) witchcraft, Eggers' tale begins with a trial on a colonial plantation which concludes with a family's banishment for their differing beliefs.  William (Ralph Ineson), Katherine (Kate Dickey), and their children Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) choose to settle on a piece of land at the edge of the forest, about a day's ride from town.  Months later, after they have built a house and Katherine has given birth to an infant son named Samuel, Thomasin is playing peek-a-boo with the baby at the edge of the woods.  She uncovers her face to surprise the baby one final time, and finds that he has mysteriously disappeared.  The family searches the forest for days with no luck in locating the missing child.  As the family attempts to cope with Samuel's disappearance, they fall on hard times and begin to turn on one another.  Strange occurrences continue to plague the family, causing further turmoil and distrust, and leading to accusations that Thomasin is a witch and that Black Phillip (one of the family goats) is actually the devil incarnate.

Considering its allusions to witchcraft and satanic practices, there is surprisingly little bloodshed in the film.  There are however, a couple of instances in which the results of animal harm are briefly seen (none of the harm actually occurs on screen), so those sensitive to that sort of thing should be prepared.  The limited cast does an excellent job, especially Anya Taylor-Joy, Harvey Scrimshaw, and Ellie Grainger.  I thought that their sibling interactions were portrayed particularly well.  Some may even recognize Ineson and Dickey from their appearances on Game of Thrones, or even the plantation Governor at the beginning of the film (Julian Richings) from his time as Death on Supernatural.  The Witch may fall within the boundaries of the horror genre but it relies primarily on creepy moments as opposed to violence, which makes it all the more enjoyable in my book.  The ending does take a bit of an odd turn compared to the rest of the film, but I don't think that it suffers as a result.  It has more than its fair share of haunting moments.

According to Box Office Mojo, The Witch opened in over 2,000 theaters this weekend, which is the largest widespread launch for an A24 film thus far.  Between its Sundance acclaim and the early theatrical success thus far for such a small film (A24 purchased the distribution rights for 'just' $1 million - also according to Box Office Mojo), I will be very interested to see where Robert Eggers' career goes from here.  Hopefully he will be afforded a number of new opportunities.  The film is definitely unique, and although the 17th century-speak takes a little while to tune into, I found it quite enjoyable once it gets its legs (around the time Mercy is singing about 'the witch of the wood' by the creek).  If you're into independent horror, this film is well worth a watch.  And if you're not, hopefully something within this review will have piqued your interest just as mine was.


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