I’m not a horror movie guy. They don’t scare me, I’m always aware of cinematic artifice, and I find most attempts at “scary movies” to be cheap and obvious and boring. The Witch, however, is a cut above the genre competition, despite not really being the film I expected to see, and avoiding certain horror trademarks which will likely annoy as many as it pleases.
It’s a 90 minute slow burn, and it’s the sort of film that’s going to outright anger the vast majority of regular-joe moviegoers who have been conditioned to expect one type of scary moviemaking. It’s a hard piece of work to discuss without spoiling, as it offers up some truly nasty moments of danger, with a tremendous sense of dread being felt all throughout. For people of faith, this movie could be even more unsettling than it was for me; I was kept at a mild remove simply because the events portrayed in this film are things that I find to be inherently unreal, but because of the power of suspension of disbelief, I wholly bought into the cinematic world that was being presented.
As a piece of extra-precise craftsmanship, the direction is practically faultless, the performances are terrific across the board (except for the fact that about 50% of the father’s spoken dialogue was unintelligible), the 1.77:1 cinematography smartly handled by Jarin Blaschke, with a score by Mark Korven that’s very creepy if mildly intrusive. What’s even more impressive is that this is director Robert Eggers’ first film; I’m eager to see what’s next for him as a storyteller, which seems to be a reworking of 1922’s Nosferatu(!) One thing is for certain: 1630’s New England was NOT an ideal time to be living! This film is dirty, cold, muddy, and very chilling in certain spots, and won’t be anyone with sensitivity to child endangerment. It feels like the kind of film that someone like William Friedkin would probably do back-flips over. And it’s a further reminder that distributor A24 is leading the pack when it comes to thought provoking cinema in a sea of endless CGI bombast. This is the rare horror film that I will buy on Blu-ray.
Written by Nick Clement