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The Witch (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

The Witch

The Witch

THE WITCH (2016)

Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Bathsheba Garnett, Sarah Stephens, Julian Richings and Wahab Chaudhry.

Screenplay by Robert Eggers.

Directed by Robert Eggers.

Distributed by Lionsgate Films.  87 minutes.  Rated R.

Robert Eggers’ period supernatural drama The Witch is subtitled “A New England Folk Tale,” which is an interesting way to look at itself – and one that is oddly right on the button.  Not true, but obviously loosely borrowed from legends and mysteries of the old Puritanical territories (this story takes place about 50-60 years before the legendary Salem witch trials), it tells a creepy period drama of a frontier family that is banished to the woods and finds itself in the middle of an escalating series of creepy experiences that test their strong faith – in each other and in their God.

The family is led by William (Ralph Ineson), a deeply religious farmer who is thrust out of his village due to a theoretical disagreement.  He takes his family several hours away, in a clearing right by a mysterious wooded area.  (In fairness, back then, pretty much everything was right by a wooded area.  He raises a barn and farm and plans to make a good living growing crops and raising livestock that he feels he can still sell to the villagers who no longer wanted to live with him in their midst.

His family is made up of Katherine (Kate Dickie) the doting wife and mother who is hiding a massive well of guilt and sorrow, even before her family comes to be under attack of paranormal forces.  The oldest daughter is Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), an apparently good-hearted teenaged girl who is just starting to hit independent and sexual curiosity.  Son Caleb (Ralph Ineson) is slightly younger, attempting to be the second man of the house though he is not quite ready.  Next are twins Jonas and Mercy (Lucas Dawson and Ellie Grainger), who are too young to be of much help at chores, and starting to get just a bit bratty, in particular Mercy.  Finally there is the baby Samuel.

Quickly upon moving into their new home, they realize mysterious things are happening around them, probably centered around the woods.  The crops all rot on the vine, some of the animals die mysteriously, the cow gives blood one time when it is milked.  Then one day baby Samuel mysteriously disappears while playing with Thomasin (literally, she was in the midst of a peek-a-boo and suddenly he was gone.)

At first they are sure that a witch in the woods who has stolen the baby, but as things continue to lose control the seams start to split on the family.  The oldest boy disappears while searching for the witch and the younger daughter gets the parents to start to suspect the older girl.  In the meantime the husband tries desperately to keep the family together as the mother becomes bereft.

The Witch is not necessarily a horror film in the normal sense, though much of it is very spooky.  However, it seems more psychologically based, more interested in the moral consequences of our acts and the ongoing battle between outside evils and religious fundamentalism.

I’m not sure whether this extremely old-fashioned production will catch on in a world of shiny and blood-soaked horrors.  Eventually the stilted prose of the day gets a bit exhausting – way too many thous, wilts, and thys – but it does give the film an era-appropriate feel.  Actually, writer/director Eggers suggests that much of the dialogue is taken directly from court transcripts from the time, leading you to wonder if the formality of the language was just written or spoken as well.

Yet, you sort of have to respect Eggers for disregarding commercial considerations and instead telling the story he wants to tell.  It may not resonate for everyone, but I have a feeling that a lot of people will fall under The Witch‘s dark spell, and they will become passionate followers of it’s bleakly beautiful world view.

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 17, 2016.

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