I fully intended to go see Deadpool this week but when I actually got to the theater I found I couldn’t voluntarily subject myself to any more of it. Being an internet user, I’ve been steeped in Deadpool for the past month or so and without knowing it, I’d had my fill. So I went to see The Witch, a horror period piece of which I’d heard almost nothing. What a nice change of pace.
A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
Part of what made this film work, I think, was how helpless the characters are in that setting. These people are Puritans in the 17th century. This was back in the time before internet yes, but also before penicillin, indoor plumbing, before doctors knew that hand washing prevented infection and even railroads. This was when exile meant death because people didn’t survive well on their own. Living on a farm in the middle of nowhere is about as powerless as a person could be. And that’s without a supernatural antagonist. To my mind, you could take the witch out of ‘The Witch’ and you’d still have a decent horror.
I had a little trouble processing The Witch in a way that would make it review-able though. It’s unlike any horror I’ve ever seen, though there’s no doubt that it IS horror. I was horrified for most of it. But part of horror is usually the Breaking of the Rules. Rules are laid out, then characters break the rules and spend the rest of the movie facing something deadly and awful and either finally overcoming or succumbing to it. Well in The Witch, there are no rules. Nothing is laid out, nothing is effective, nothing is clear. That worked both ways – there was no motivation for the antagonists. I found myself looking for a sort of explanation as to why this happened. But The Witch doesn’t work that way. It’s not a philosophical point it’s making, it is a story it’s telling. The director described it as a ‘Puritan’s nightmare’ and that’s exactly what this is.
I could not get how good the acting was in this. Every character was completely compelling. It helps that they had something to work with, the dialogue was very believable, but there were long moments where you knew what the characters must be thinking even though they weren’t saying anything. That’s a rarity. Robert Eggers as both director and writer did a hell of a job. As did every single actor in this, including the child actors and even the animal actors. I kept looking to call one individual out, but every single one stood out whenever they were on screen. I will mention that Ralph Ineson’s voice though gave me chills.
So is The Witch worth watching? Yes definitely but I’d chose my moment. You might really have to be in the mood for a historical horror. But it’s very, very good. And afterwards you can turn all the lights on, have a hot bath and something to eat and surf the internet and contemplate witches in your climate controlled room ‘cause that’s what I did. Although after this, for me at least, maybe no more horror for a little while.