New England 1630. Banished by the church, English farmer William (Ralph Ineson) leaves his colonial plantation with his wife and five children for a remote plot on the edge of a dark forest. Unsettling incidents begin to occur: animals turn malevolent, crops fail, and one child disappears while another is seemingly possessed by an evil spirit. Suspicion and paranoia mounts and family members accuse teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) of witchcraft, which she adamantly denies. But things get worse and each family member's faith, loyalty and love are tested in shocking and unforgettable ways.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There are several reasons why Robert Egger's multi-awarded debut feature, The Witch, is so engaging and genre defying, most notably perhaps Eggers total disregard for the trite and labored conventions of horror films these days. There are no suddenly jarring sounds (whether justified or not), no slow moving characters teasing us with what they approach nor the scream-inducing edits. You may even decide that without those lazy and overused devices, The Witch is more like a period drama centred on an isolated family in 1630 a New England that is heading for those infamous witch trials some 60 years later.
The family is not very different from those fear mongers that banish them from their fundamentalist village. Evangelical is an understatement here, where the deep religious conviction fuses with ignorance and superstition, where the devil lurks in every corner and we are all sinners desperate for redemption but all too weak to attain it.
The film's great success is in the depiction of this world, one that has been constructed (manually) from very real and authoritative sources. This gives the film an authenticity that is carried through in its casting of (unknown) actors who speak in the English dialect of the 17th century. Some of it is too authentic for our ears, but I forgive that for the gripping result of being transported to this time and place.
While the film avoids clichˇ, it doesn't avoid symbols and markers of the genre; Black Philip the black goat has a key role, and the eerily disturbing gaze of what should be an innocent rabbit signals mysterious evil. The dense forest, of course, and the mournful unidentified sound that comes from it.
Eggers has pieced together a screenplay that imagines how this family lived in a world made scary by ignorance and fear, populated by devils and witches, a life out of their control: crop failure is a curse, for instance. But he writes as the insider, a believer, not a cynical filmmaker from the future, sneering at this mindset. He writes it how it is for these characters, hence the glimpses of witches, the manifestation of evil in animals and the mysterious disappearance of the baby.
This is a Bergmanesque work, complete with the austere landscape superbly photographed in shades of somber by Jarin Blaschke, the meticulously authentic costumes by Linda Muir and sparse, evocative design by Craig Lathrop. Mark Korven's unnerving score is inventive but appropriately underwritten, and all the performances are exceptional. The Witch is visually and viscerally effective, intelligent and haunting.
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WITCH, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Elle Grainger, Lucas Dawson
PRODUCER: Daniel Bekerman, Lars Knudsen, Jodi Redmond, Rodrigo Teixeria, Jay Van Hoy
DIRECTOR: Robert Eggers
SCRIPT: Robert Eggers
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jarin Blaschke
EDITOR: Louise Ford
MUSIC: Mark Korven
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Craig Lathrop
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 17, 2016