Directed by: Robert Eggers
Produced by: Rodrigo Teixeira
Jay Van Hoy
Screenplay by: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy
Music by: Mark Korven
Cinematography by: Jarin Blaschke
Editing by: Louise Ford
Studio(s): Parts and Labor
Rooks Nest Entertainment
Distributed by: A24
Release date(s): January 27, 2015 (Sundance Film Festival)
September 18, 2015 (Toronto International Film Festival)
February 19, 2016 (United States)
March 11, 2016 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 93 minutes
Country(s): United States
Production budget: $3 million
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $40, 423, 945
"I'll be back," reads The Terminator mug from which I am drinking my cup of tea, and I'm living up to those words, so, much as I hope that you Enjoy(ed) The Silence, the bashing away on my keyboard like the sound of Rolling Thunder can only mean one thing: no, not that I have finally decided to come out as a previously closeted hipster, though considering I did just manage to fit three cultural references into the previous sentence, I am wavering dangerously close towards that precipice. Yes, it means that The Thin White Dude's Reviews are back in business. What has been holding me off has been a combination of many things, notwithstanding I have been working like a machine, but also the fact that the familiar echoes of my typing are never far away, as I am as ever working on several different projects. Well, I say that all the time, but hey, if I'm not satisfied with the finished product, then I don't feel they are fit for consumer digestion (that is assuming that y'all don't regurgitate some of the nonsense I come up with). Anywho, for all the latest and greatest as regards the movies, keep your eyes posted.
Today's film up for review is The Witch, which (which Witch? Stop it, Callum!) played at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals back in 2015, and was widely released in February of this year. The first time I saw this film I watched it on my colleague's phone on a night shift at the Balmoral Show (one of my Unholy Trinity Of Nightmares as far as shifts in the security industry go, along with Creamfields Festival and Disney On Ice), mistakenly selecting it on the basis that it was the new Natalie Dormer horror film The Forest. Normally, I completely frown upon watching the film on a phone period, but I thought I could get away with watching a disposable genre flick, and then, what do you know, spoiler alert, about a couple of months later I bought the film on DVD. I say spoiler alert, but I won't spoil too much, so don't worry about that mild disclaimer. Righto, plot-wise The Witch (which comes with the subtitle 'A New-England Folktale') follows a Puritan family in 17th century New England, consisting of William (Ralph Ineson), his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), and their children (eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), eldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), twins Jonas and Mercy (Lucas Dawson, Ellie Grainger)), as they are threatened with banishment from their plantation over William's contrary interpretation of the New Testament. Opting to leave the church and plantation entirely to build a farm on the edge of a secluded forest, Katherine gives birth their son Samuel (Axtun Henry Dube and Athan Conrad Dube). However, while Thomasin minds him, Samuel mysteriously disappears, all manner of things start happening, and as the family begin to turn on each other, dark forces may or may not have a hand in influencing the matter. Got it? Good.
Starting off with the good, I can tell you that there is a whole lot of it. As I mentioned, I saw the film on a phone, a format I normally would refrain on principle from using, but even then I was really unnerved, and the film stuck with me in my head, so I had to go out and get it on DVD. The second time around I got a fuller impression of just what this film was all about. I would like to discuss the first thing that initially struck me about The Witch, and that was the effect that the film had upon me from a purely sensory standpoint. As well written as it is (we'll get to that), The Witch is a film that could have been constructed as a contemporary silent film, for it is so visually striking in it's imagery and aurally chilling as regards the overall sound of the piece. From the visual perspective, it is immaculately lit and staged by DP Jarin Blaschke, with the stark contrast of natural light and shadow in darkness reminiscent of the remarkable paintings of Francisco Goya. The sound design dances a demonic tango with the dark folk sounds of Mark Korven's original score, creating an atmosphere of brooding meditation and the rush of impending dread. Technically, the film is not unlike the character that gives it it's name, relishing in the playful manipulation of our emotions. In this sense, the editing of the film by Louise Ford works on the viewer like that of a wire being slowly spun, gradually tightening over the course of the running time. It's a masterclass in drawing out and developing tension in a very classy and elegant manner. Much of the low-budget feature surrounds the ensemble cast that comprise the family at the centre, and all six of the primary cast members are great in their roles. Ralph Ineson (near unrecognisable from some of his television roles) and Kate Dickie are acting vets, both of whom give great performances among their best befitting the weight of what is on their characters shoulders emotionally, but the real revelations are the young actors portraying their children. Anya Taylor-Joy stands out as Thomasin, depicting her not only as a young woman coming of age but also amidst the various afflictions of her family the film's voice of reason. She is a strong, believable and steadfast protagonist, who we can sympathise with because Taylor-Joy fleshes out for us the crux of Thomasin's conflict, that of controlling her own emotions and keep her own family under control as they all descend into various forms of mania. Harvey Scrimshaw too walks a tightrope of sorts, as his Caleb struggles with his increasing sexual awareness as a boy on the cusp of puberty. Even little Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson as the twins Mercy and Jonas manage to contribute with what should be should cute and humorous but is instead unnerving by way of their playful jests with Black Phillip the goat. Finally, what The Witch also marks is the arrival of a powerful new cinematic voice in Robert Eggers. With well-rounded, three-dimensional characters, beautifully universal but period accurate dialogue, and an engaging story based around content, Eggers has crafted a screenplay what on the surface could be derided as simplistic, but with his enigmatic approach to directing in realising it and bringing it to the big screen, is instead revealed to be a dense work of real complexity. There are many ways you can look at The Witch. In the one hand, you can view it from a purely sensory, cerebral standpoint. On the other, you can look at it as a straight genre piece. In another sense, you can look at it from the thematic perspective and ask yourself a number of questions. There are so many of them, but I want to pose one here myself for you to ponder, and I can do so because the film is intelligent to let me ask this question without it being a spoiler: are the supernatural events of the film that of a family being torn apart by something of malevolent intent, or is all of what we witness a manifestation of their respective inner demons? Yes, it's that kind of film.
Now, when I get into the negatives here I'm going to be discussing it from a broad outlook, because frankly I don't think there's much wrong with the film in my eyes. The problem is not the film itself but the fact is that there will be some viewers who will feel alienated, or indeed bored by The Witch, because of the way in which it delivers it's scares as the story unfolds. This is not one of the umpteen, stupid jump-scare horror movies built around spots over plots, moments over stories. What is absent from The Witch is that audience-pleasing, popcorn-entertainment factor that many people get from horror movies. As such, although I am certainly not one of them, there will be people who will either find it hard to adjust their palettes, given how much crap is rammed down our throats with horror films these days, or just not react positively to the film period. Sad but true.
That being said, while I acknowledge the views of others, this review is a reflection of my opinion(s), and as it stands, I think that The Witch is a contemporary horror classic. Indeed, I'll go so far as to say it's the best horror film I have seen since Let The Right One In seven years ago. It's been that long since I have seen a film in this genre so effective. It is deeply disturbing, and what it lacks perhaps in 'entertainment' value it makes up for rich, juicy content, and I was quite haunted by the overall experience. I've seen the film twice now, and I feel that I could sit down and watch a third time without tiring of it.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.2/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Well-oiled (had a cardio and weights sesh/break in between finishing this)