ReelBob: ‘The Witch’
By Bob Bloom
“The Witch” is like one of those spooky stories told around a campfire.
It’s deliberate, building suspense and frights until it reaches its inevitable finale.
The film, set in Puritan New England during the 1630s, is, according to writer-director Robert Eggers, based on folktales and legends from that time.
The story takes place years before the infamous Salem witch trials that later gripped the region.
The film’s plotline and the later trials have fanaticism and superstition in common; both are traits that seem to drive people mad.
What is most interesting about “The Witch” is that most of what occurs seems to have rational explanations.
Even the finale is ambiguous.
“The Witch” holds your attention as Eggers, in his debut, creates a stifling atmosphere of tension, anticipation and jolts. You wait for the other shoe to drop as occurrences slowly grow more and more unsettling.
It is an intimate tale as the story focuses on one family that leaves a colonial plantation under threat of banishment and settles on land on the edge of an ominous forest.
These woods are dark, deep and dangerous, housing a lurking evil that soon begins to plague and influence the family.
All the events seem to center on Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the eldest child of five in the family. Tasked with watching her infant brother, the baby seemingly disappears before her eyes.
When riding in the woods with another brother, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), they are thrown and the boy becomes lost, and when he returns, it is evident that something terrible has befallen him.
Her mischievous other younger brother and sister are rather wild and rambunctious, playing with a ram they call Black Phillip, claiming that the animal talks to them.
The parents, William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) are God-fearing Christians who adhere to a strict interpretation of the Bible, read from it and teach passages to their children daily.
They cannot comprehend what is happening, mostly believing that God is testing them.
Eggers is the movie’s real wizard, creating a feature that keeps you wondering about what you are seeing and mentally debating whether it is real or the devil’s work.
He drops hints like breadcrumbs with which he lures you to deeper and deeper into the eerie and sinister events plaguing a wilderness family fighting to survive.
The filmmaker uses a gray pallor that hangs over the project like a blanket. It is as if all the color has been drained from the land and those trying to work it.
Some may consider the ending too literal, but Eggers is wise enough to leave a shred of doubt about its authenticity.
“The Witch” is a horror movie with an old-fashioned vibe to it. Like all memorable films in the genre, it leaves more to the audience’s imagination — which is where the real terror can manifest itself.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
3½ stars out of 4
(R), disturbing violent images, nudity