When I first saw the trailer for THE WITCH (last year), I was more than interested... we were promised a festival favorite that truly lived up to its goal of disturbing and horrifying the viewer.
By the TENTH time I saw the trailer (honestly, this was pushed harder than even DEADPOOL by my experience), I was fed up with it and was practically DARING the film to live up to its reputation. Well, thankfully the actual film finally arrived right after that. And it did just that.
You probably know that THE WITCH (the title is spelled out on screen as "THE VVITCH: A NEW-ENGLAND FOLK TALE" but I'm going to keep it simple) is the highly-acclaimed debut feature (as writer/director) of experienced production designer Robert Eggers, whose meticulous research savvy makes this one of the most authentic looking (and sounding) Puritan-era tales yet set to film.
The plot: A Puritan family (no surname given) led by self-proclaimed man of God William (Ralph Ineson) finds itself banished from its New England church/plantation community (beyond William's "conceit" we are not told the specific reason) and determines to start life anew in a wilderness setting on the edge of a forbidding forest. Bad things happen, starting with the swift vanishing of the infant son. The family tries to tell itself that baby Samuel was snatched by a wolf, but...
From this first trauma, there is no recovery and no comfort to be had no matter how hard William leans on the Bible. Mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) is in constant mourning. Adolescent Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) doesn't know what's more frightening: the possible existence of witchcraft or the fact that she's just old enough to be married off. Little brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) wants to help provide for the family but is just finding his own "sinful" urges to be somewhat more welcoming than his father's unbending Scriptural proclamations (would God really send his unbaptized infant brother 'there?'). And then there are the twins, Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson), who delight in teasing a family goat they've dubbed "Black Phillip" but soon find that some subjects really ought not to be joked about...
As you can see, the family tensions alone would be enough to make a shattering drama out of this story, and some have even speculated (sight unseen) that there is no actual witch in THE WITCH. The approach of pure superstition and psychology might have worked very well indeed, but I can (and really should) assure you that such is not the case. At a very early point in the film, the viewer is shown things that the family couldn't possibly be seeing, and without going into graphic detail, I can tell you that you'll know right from that moment whether you even want to let the rest of the tale unfold.
Expect your comfort zone to be violently breached, but also expect to take in some extraordinary performances from the entire cast. And while I suppose that I have a degree of sympathy for those who find the authentic historical dialogue a bit hard to follow, I had no trouble understanding it (nor am I a Puritan-era scholar). What I find truly hard to fathom is that the Chronicle reviewer (not Mick this time) called this boring and thought a little less "power of suggestion" would have helped. I'd say more, but then I WOULD be getting into improper spoiler territory. THE WITCH has the power to shock, disturb and horrify you no matter what type of film you were expecting.
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