The Witch: Film Review
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw
Director: Robert Eggers
More a lesson in psychological horror than abject terror first time director Robert Eggers' The Witch is a spiralling descent into madness in the 17th century.
Subtitled a New England Folk Tale, it's the story of a family excommunicated from a Christian Puritan plantation in 1630, because of an unexplained sin of their father. Despite being given the chance to repent, he leads the family out into the wilderness and near to a woods, choosing to reflect on their sins and seek internal and eternal forgiveness first.
But when Thomasin (Taylor Joy) is playing peek-a-boo with the family's baby Sam one day, she closes her eyes to find the baby snatched before her and with no clue over where he's gone. As the family's crops begin to fail and there's no return from Sam, the internal conflicts grow with the rumour that Thomasin is a witch being seeded and growing viciously, threatening the very fabric of their family unit.
The Witch is in some ways, the horrifying coming-of-age story of Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). Taylor-Joy is wonderful from the start as she looks down the barrel of the camera and begs for forgiveness while her expressive brown eyes poke out from wafts of blonde hair. Her conflict and struggle is inherent from the beginning and Taylor Joy's commitment to underplaying the role helps sell her own demons and those around her. There's a wonderful ambiguity to her performance that's as gripping as it is sickening.
Elsewhere, creepy is the order of the day, with psychological terror being the serving of Eggers' film rather than lazy jump scares and terrifying set pieces.
While this film is bathed in the language of the time and with time taken in prayer, and elements of religious fervour displayed, it's essentially the tried and tested story of the destructive power of rumour. Thanks to debut director Eggers' incredible set design and unswerving dedication to evocation, the long sweeping camera shots, an ominous soundscape and brooding soundtrack, The Witch is a classic case of unnerving.
All of the cast acquit themselves excellently; from Ineson's determined father to Dickie's gradually dismantling mother this is a family unit on the edge, a family one moment away from cracking and whose ultimate fate is partially of their own doing. Equally, the twins of the film are unsettling and creepiness personified.
While it could be argued the ambiguity which serves the majority of the film well is wrongfully discarded in the final moments of the end (leading to a feeling of a desire to satiate audiences who wanted more due to their own expectations), The Witch is a masterclass in brooding atmosphere and growing sinister dread.
But it's also a masterclass in humanity and human reaction, thanks to Taylor-Joy's relatably innocent performance; her Thomasin is a deer stuck in the headlights of superstition and spiralling doubts, and she delivers on every level in this cautionary tale whose universal themes will ring true long after the lights have gone up.