A divisive film upon its initial wide release earlier this year, Robert Eggers “The Witch” is a film I now wish I would’ve caught in theaters instead of on Redbox so I could’ve talked about it then instead of upon its disc release now. I was interested in the movie the first time I saw the trailer and after hearing the initial audience reviews about how boring and unscary it was I could tell it was probably just misunderstood by the masses.
There was plenty of talk about how it is a slow-burner and that it is dialogue heavy, all true. There was plenty of praise for the cinematography and the score, all well deserved. But there was a lot of audience push back on the lack of scares it delivered and the heavy dialogue they were subjected too. I’ll get back to this in a bit.
“The Witch” is a well-crafted movie about a Puritan family that is banished from their plantation community for basically being too pious and bugging their neighbors about it. They settle near some woods a distance from where they came and build themselves a nice little farm, growing corn and raising goats. Things go wrong quite early into the film as the mother, Katherine, gives birth to a baby boy named Samuel. The oldest daughter -and central character- Thomasin is playing peek-a-boo with the infant outside when (as seen in the trailer) the baby disappears, carried off into the woods by a red-cloaked witch.
This sets the rest of the story in motion as the family gradually deteriorates under the pressure of living alone near the woods where the witch is and succumbing to the power of witchcraft and Satan. The cinematography is easy to praise, no doubt, and is well deserved, but where the disconnect with audiences was is everything else that is also worthy of praise. A slow-burner is a code word for boring when it comes to audiences. There are no frequent jump scares or some brought in expert to explain what we can already assume. “The Witch” doesn’t try to convince us that there isn’t a witch. We see the witch very early on and we know what she is capable of at two different points in the movie.
The director and writer, Eggers, made a tactical choice to not overuse the witch herself, which was a very smart play. Instead, he let the family do most of the work and left the results of witchcraft to them. The score by Mark Korven plays a big role in creating the atmosphere and tension as the family falls apart under the power of witchcraft and their own distrust.
I will say that the audience complaint about the dialogue is not without merit. I had an issue with the heaviness of the dialogue given the time period, Old English is difficult to follow if thou does not understand the. Also, the speed and volume at which the characters talk, especially Ralph Ineson’s William, is difficult to catch all of what they’re saying. But the rest of the film’s audience demerits should be dismissed. The tension built around the setting is well done and the use of witchcraft and occult influences was very well thought out. You’ll learn to be suspicious of animals and listen to your kids more when the youngest say they talk to the horned black goat on the farm, and it talks to them.
Overall, I really enjoyed this movie and the atmosphere that it created. Sure, it’s no crowd favorite like “Insidious” or “The Conjuring,” but it is still scary in the fact this family is highly religious, living alone near the woods of a witch and there is absolutely nothing that they can do about it once she becomes involved. Give it a shot, just don’t expect it to be like any other horror/scary movie you’ve seen in theaters recently. The thematic of the story really should be seen, especially if you have any interest in the old history of early American witches and witchcraft.