A daring debut? A 60 second review of The Witch (2016)

“Did ye make some unholy bond with that goat?”

Finally got around to seeing this much lauded horror from debut director Roger Eggers. Winner at the Sundance Festival may not have the ring it used to, but to win this on your first try takes a certain skill in storytelling and directing. Not only has The Witch turned more than a few heads in Eggers’ direction, it has also offered the film industry a new angle on one of horror’s forgotten sub-genres.

What I liked…

No jump scares, no gore for gore’s sake, no gratuitous nudity. Instead we are treated to slow-building tension that builds itself around a well written and acted family. Led by Ineson, they have been nurtured by the sort of religious mania that would be made fun of now. Yet in The Witch, it feels chillingly realistic to the point where you aren’t sure where the family’s delusions end and their justified paranoia begins. You feel their confusion, their belief and eventually their fear.

The isolation that the family are subjected to continues to build through excellent lighting and patient camerawork. Slow burning campfire stories are hard to come by these days, especially done so well. Good horror won’t come to us anymore through mainstream cinema, which makes it all the more rewarding when you discover a great film like The Witch.

The fact it’s about witches. With vampires, werewolves and zombies all more than having their time in the sun, or out of it, it is so refreshing to have a film that explores the infamy surrounding witchcraft. Perhaps it is the history of witches and their links to real events that makes them a more sensitive topic outside of the 90s parodies and comedies we are used to. Are they supernatural or are they real? Are they labels given to women possessing foresight or display talents not yet understood during archaic times? Either way The Witch attempts to put its own stamp on a relatively untouched folklore origin and genre, with jarring results.

Every character has their role, even ones you don’t expect. The last act takes careful viewing and by then you are so invested in the characters that you can’t help but be taken aback when things play out in the end. The idea of sacrificing a family member for the sake of the rest of them is unthinkable today, but in this New England folktale things can never be taken for granted…

What I disliked…

It is an indie flick, which makes it no surprise that the film is very contained. This might not be to everyone’s taste, but but it is so satisfying to see films free of the hot breath of a fussy studio breathing down its neck. It is simple in its premise, yet able to tell more about the past, the supernatural and our own nature than some films fail to do in an entire trilogy.

Some people will feel quite removed from the archaic language that Eggers is determined to use to ensure the authenticity. Although strange at first, it is surprising how quickly you get used to all the “thees” and “thuses”.

As an ambiguous thriller with a twist, it might have a slightly shorter shelf life than some other horrors. But then Sixth Sense had that problem, but that hasn’t stopped it being hailed as arguably M Night’s best work. Plus I can’t imagine not needing to watch this again just to get a better grasp of what the hell they are saying.

Shapstik Verdict: A daring debut from young director Robert Eggers. I was talking about this for ages after the credits rolled and I don’t think I will be the only one. What you think you know, or where you think you are, shifts continuously throughout the film until you ultimately realise what has happened, but by then it’s too late. The Witch gets under your skin in a way that takes a real understanding on the genre and suggests big things for Egggers. 8/10

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