by: S. Scott Stanikmas
A lot of horror movies go for the easy “cat-on-the-piano” jump scares and leave well enough alone. That is not the case with writer/director Robert Egger’s first offering The Witch. After debuting at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and making the rounds on the rest of the circuit The Witch has finally been unleashed on the general public.
The film, which isn’t based on any particular family and instead takes its story from a number of tales and folklore, focuses on devout William whose religious beliefs clash with those of his village. They banish him from the settlement and he takes his family – wife Katherine, daughter Tomasin, son Caleb and twins Mercy and Jonas – with him in search of a new home.
Soon the family finds a patch of land on the edge of the woods and they proceed to make a home. They build a house and barn for livestock and intend to raise corn for trade. William and Katherine also have another child, which they name Samuel.
But things soon take a turn for the worse. Tomasin loses her baby brother to a witch that lives in the woods during a game of peek-a-boo. What happens to the baby sets off a string of unfortunate events that tests the family’s religious beliefs and trust and love for one another.
Robert Eggers first film is unsettling and intense. He slowly builds the tension and ratchets it up notch by notch until the gut-wrenching conclusion. The fact that the titular witch has such little screen time is a testament to how well the story is told and how well the narrative works by focusing on the family and their struggle. The desolation they feel is only compounded by the woods that surround them, cutting them off from any type of help.
Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke does an amazing job in capturing New England in the 1630s. The flickering candlelight as well as the woods that barely let any natural light in makes for a foreboding surrounding. Mark Korven’s choice of music, which consists mainly of deep basses and screeching strings sits in your gut and burrows deep, adding another layer to the already creepy onion that is The Witch.
The final sequences are especially disturbing and elicit a sense of terror as well as sorrow, which is tough to do at the same time.
The only issue I had with the film was the constant use of black screens to change from certain scenes. It took me out of the film for a bit and I felt it was a bit overused, especially near the climax.
Despite that minor shortcoming, in his debut effort Eggers delivers a story that isn’t the typical type of scary but more of a gradual, unnerving horror film that sticks with you long after the final credits roll. It’s not the type of film that you can easily categorize but it is a film that you can easily enjoy.