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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Witch (2015) - Review

"If you go down to the woods today you're sure of a big surprise. If you go down to the woods today you'd better go in disguise!" In the 2015 horror film The Witch, by writer/director Robert Eggers, it is the unknown that is the true horror to found here, and what was more unknown and scarier than the dark and gloomy forest of the New World? Taking place in 17th Century New England, sixty-two years before the Salem Witch Trials, this story deals with a Puritan family ostracized by their community and how fear and evil of all kinds tears them apart.


The father of this family is William (Ralph Ineson), a man so absolute in his Puritan beliefs that he challengers the community leaders, and this is what gets him and his family kicked out. With him are his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), their eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), their son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and the fraternal twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson). It becomes clear that Katherine would rather be back living in the town, or even happier if she were back in England, but a devoted wife must follow her husband. Caleb is going through puberty, which causes him to look at his older sister in disturbing ways, and Thomasin herself isn’t all that happy taking care of the toddling terrors that are the twins. Add to all this the constant bible quoting by their overly pious father and it’s a recipe for disaster. But not all the strife is relegated to this 17th Century nuclear family, beyond their family homestead is the forest, a dark and primordial place where you can lose more than your way if you dare to step inside its boundaries.


One day, while playing with her new baby brother, Thomasin’s life is rocked to her very core when a simple game of peek-a-boo results in the baby suddenly vanishing almost right before her eyes, and when the child is not recovered the family spirals even further out of control. We soon see an old crone murdering the infant to use its blood and viscera for a flying potion, and it is all truly horrifying. This is the movie’s title character, and she is right out of Eastern European folklore. This is the kind of witch that would either have a house that walks on chicken legs or she’d be building a home out of candy to lure children to their deaths. Robert Eggers’ The Witch is about religious fanaticism and superstitious fear but not in the “Man uses fear to control others” way but more that evil itself uses this fear and divisiveness to tear humanity apart for its own ends. When a lack of food, and a mother wracked by grief, causes Caleb and Thomasin to venture back into the forest only one of them returns.


Beware, that is not Red Riding Hood.

Many viewers have criticized this movie for not being scary enough, but Robert Eggers is not of the school of the "wall banging" and "jump scares" that you get in the current batch if modern horror films such as The Conjuring or Mama. Not that there is anything wrong with that style but Eggers seems more interested in creating a creeping dread that will take hold of the viewer and never let go.
When this Puritanical family starts going at each others throats, accusing each other of being a witch, I found this more in keeping with the Twilight Zone as seen in such classic episodes as "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street," but instead of aliens manipulating stupid humans it’s the dark forces of witchcraft. This is a movie that states that not only is the horror in you but it's also out there, and if you give into your fears something nasty may be just around the corner. So basically don’t go into the woods today, even if you hear that teddy bears are having a picnic.


Cause it’s totally not bears, and your soul could be on the menu.

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