In filmic terms, we are dropped into a similar era (give or take ten years) to that of Witchfinder General (1968) and A Field In England (2013). Welcome to The Witch.
Banished from their plantation in New England due to the crime of “prideful conceit”, William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) along with their five children build a new home for themselves a days ride away, on the borders of a large and ominous forest. After a few months of settling in time, the family appear to be adapting to their new surroundings when one day their eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is playing with her newly born brother Samuel, who then suddenly vanishes almost instantly from under her nose. Is the child’s disappearance the work of witchcraft from an enchantress in the woods, someone within the family, or is the power of the mind combined with their fundamentalist beliefs the cause?
Debutant writer/director Robert Eggers deserves a great deal of credit on all fronts as he has produced a film which teases a response out of every possible sense that cinema can exploit. The aspect ratio is 1:1.66 which is a rarity in modern cinema as it slightly narrows the width of the image in order to extend the height, this enabled cinematographer Jarin Blaschke to frame the locations such as the forest and the interior of the home in such a way which results in them looking much more domineering and claustrophobic. Blaschke’s visuals are stunningly seductive and although the colour pallet is dark, damp and brooding, they enhance the richness of the tale of every level.
With a relatively unknown cast in cinematic terms, the ensemble manages to produce a series of flawless performances. Ralph Ineson, who 99% of the world will know as Finchy from The Office is magnificent, and with a voice which makes Tom Waits sound like Mickey Mouse, you just wonder why he hasn’t been utilised on the silver screen more often. Major plaudits have to go to youngsters Anya Taylor-Joy and her onscreen brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), who deliver performances way beyond their years. If they are both able to remain at the standards on display here for future roles, then we could certainly be looking at two stars of the future.
The most enjoyable aspect about The Witch is that it is a film which isn’t scared to take its time. Eggers isn’t afraid to let certain scenes play out and mellow in a horror-like cask, which then results in the audience scrutinising the actions of various characters as they too begin to act as a detective in order to find the root cause of the sinister occurrences.
The climate of the genre could be regarded as being somewhat stagnant due to not only predictability but also its over-reliance on jump scares; how refreshing then that such an intelligent and original film has made its way onto our screens. If you could take the essence of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, The Shining (1980) and The Devils (1971) and stick them into a blender with a generous serving of Eggers’ originality, you would get something close to The Witch.
A wonderfully visceral film, it will stay with you long after you leave the cinema and personally, I can’t wait for my second viewing.
Ready for a scare? Book your tickets to see The Witch at FACT.