The Witch (2016) Movie Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Witch (2016) Movie Review

Horrorific content by Jessica Gomez on December 25th, 2019 | Movie Review | Slow Burn, A24, Religion, Witchcraft, Folk Horror

It’s set in New England in the 1630s: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life with five children, homesteading on the edge of an impassable wilderness. When their newborn son vanishes and crops fail, the family turns on one another. Beyond their worst fears, a supernatural evil lurks in the nearby wood.

The Witch was directed by Robert Eggers (who also directed The Lighthouse) and stars Anya Taylor-Joy (from Split), Kate Dickie (from Prevenge) and Ralph Ineson.

Evil takes many forms.

The Witch (2015) Movie Review

It’s hard to believe that The Witch was Robert Eggers’ feature directorial debut. This was not your average indie film. Extensive research using actual documentation during the 1600s - the era of witchcraft hysteria - paid off; we are met with the story of a realistic Puritan family who, after being ostracized by their church, start to see their misfortune as something sent from the realm of Satan.

This isn’t an “is it or isn’t it” movie when it comes to whether the witch is real. Right off the bat, you get to see them, and they are as disturbing, scary, and devious as one could hope for. What they use to concoct their portions foreshadows what it means to forsake what you’ve been told to do and take matters into your own hands. The special effects makeup couldn’t have been more effective. I only wish we had at least one more scene with a witch, because they are few and far between and they’re really the only traditionally ‘scary’ pieces of the film. The witch imagery takes a backseat to the story of a family who is hellbent on shifting blame from themselves and their shortcomings to their blossoming daughter, whom they find hard to control.

After their baby Sam seems to vanish into thin air, paranoia mounts for parents William and Katherine. Their devotion to religion fails them as more and more begins to go wrong: their crops die, their son becomes possessed, and they are running out of food and money. Their oldest daughter, Thomasin, gets the brunt of their anger and helplessness about their situation.

Thomasin is at an important age for the film; she’s hit puberty and is beginning to show signs of mature womanhood, which becomes especially difficult for her mother. At times, her mother shows signs of jealousy toward her, and at other times she seems eager to reach out to her daughter as she is struggling through the loss of her son. It all circles back to Thomasin, though - even if it’s an absurdity to blame her for a misfortune, her mother will find a way to throw her under the bus.

Thomasin cries to her parents that her twin siblings are talking to a goat possessed by Satan, but it’s hard to ascertain if she truly believes it, or if she is placing doubt into her parents’ minds to ensure her own survival. She has little reaction to the terrible things that are happening around her to her family, and she always seems to have chunks of time missing. Has Thomasin always intended on becoming a witch after learning that her parents are going to sell her, and is making sacrifices to the coven? Or has she had everything taken away from her, as in the Book of Job, to lead her down a path of forsaking God because the Devil himself wants her for his own? (I would have preferred he would have been left to the imagination - the voice by itself would have been more effective.) Will Thomasin free herself from the chains of the patriarchy?

The film deals with grief in a powerful way - as humans, the pain of grief and anxiety is often too much to bear, and we can lash out in irrational ways to attempt to make sense of it. For Katherine, it was easy to place blame on the daughter that she was already struggling to accept. We see Katherine and William’s faith being tested time and again, and they refuse to accept their own roles in their problems; instead, they question why God is taking things from them. Rather than understand that these dangers were actually caused by the head of the household’s poor decisions and survival skills, they turn on the only thing they have left - their own family.

Worth Watching?

The Witch is an important film for horror, but it may not be everyone’s taste. If you’re looking for a non-stop thrill ride, this isn’t it; there are several periods of downtime interspersed with short scenes that will disturb you and leave you thinking of them long after the film has ended. The tone is somber, but you will be left on the edge of your seat wondering what comes next. If you have the chance to see this in the theater, go ahead and live deliciously. There’s nothing like seeing the witch in complete darkness to haunt your dreams for life.


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