After being banished from their community, a Puritan family soon falls apart from the inside out as they are targeted by an unspeakable evil residing in the thick wood that is but a stone’s throw away from their new home.
Robert Eggers’ The Witch caused me to feel something deeply rooted in my human nature, a dread that I hadn’t felt while watching a movie since I saw a hysterical baby boy abandoned, twice, on a rocky beach as it is lashed by the unforgiving sea that took his parents, the inevitability of his fate growing stronger as the dark tide moves in. That movie was Under the Skin (2013), and that’s where The Witch firmly places itself. And that dread was for the simple fact that no matter what may come, nothing is safe, nothing is sacred, not even innocent children when death and its inhumane cruelty darkens our door: purely heartless, yet completely indiscriminate, and so very unstoppable.
The cast, particularly mother and father, played by Kate Dickie & Ralph Ineson, are absolutely superb. Even the children are something to behold, with a special mention going out to Harvey Scrimshaw who plays Caleb. This little scene-stealer gives an utterly heart-breaking performance.
Naturally, the film’s soundtrack is unsettling with its ascending chorus of wailing women that puts me firmly in mind of a similar composition from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), a chilling piece in itself. Add to that its razor-sharp strings and its jarring percussion. Its timing is immaculate as it knows exactly which moments to strike to jangle the nerves.
Admittedly I’m not all that familiar with costume dramas and period pieces, so dialogue such as “Come hither!” and “Stray not from the brook!” will invoke a childish titter. And a good thing, too! For a film whose DVD case has more stars on the cover than there are in the sky, it has absolutely no sense of humour to speak of.
Not necessarily a bad thing. Why risk losing that feeling of dread in the pit of the viewer’s stomach. And why risk taking away from the fact that this is possibly the most frightening witch movie I have ever seen.