MOVIE: ****1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5)
Anya Taylor-Joy as THOMASIN
Ralph Ineson as WILLIAM
Kate Dickie as KATHERINE
Harvey Scrimshaw as CALEB
Ellie Grainger as MERCY
Lucas Dawson as JONAS
Bathsheba Garnett as THE WITCH
Directed by: Robert Eggers
BY KEVIN CARR
When “The Witch” came to theaters earlier this year, I saw it at a press screening and later considered myself lucky. I actually got to experience the film without the many interruptions that people around the country had reported, including talking, laughing and cell phone use. At least my screening was sparsely populated with film critics who – for the most part – kept quiet during the movie.
I cannot imagine the frustration of seeing this film in a room filled with people who simply didn’t get it, and then proceeded to declare that no one else around them would be allowed to enjoy it.
“The Witch” was a challenging film for audiences to see in the theaters earlier this winter. While a great deal of it took place in the daylight, the style of shooting featured muted tones and overcast outdoor scenes. It was a relatively short film from a running-time perspective, but it had a very slow and deliberate plot. And even though it was technically in English, the dialogue was all presented in the contemporary dialect of the early 1600s, in which the movie took place.
However, just because a movie can be a challenge doesn’t mean it is not of value. In fact, “The Witch” is one of the most meticulously directed and nuanced films I’ve seen in a long while.
It is for this fact that viewing the movie at home where you can control the audience and the environment is essential for optimal viewing. Turn off the lights, send everyone not interested out of the room and immerse yourself in this New England folk take. You might just get scared at this one.
The story follows a family in New England who must leave the comfort and safety of the fort and live on their own in the wilderness. As they farm the land, they find themselves targeted by a witch living in the woods. After stealing their youngest child, the witch torments the family, preying on their carnal desires and haunting their thoughts with guilt and paranoia.
The film is told from the perspective of Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the family’s teenage daughter who is just coming of age. Rather than being an overt horror film, it is a family drama about a family imploding. Thomasin’s younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is finding himself attracted to her developing womanly form, and her mother is starting to focus her anger on Thomasin for being in charge of the baby when it was kidnapped.
Were there not a witch in the woods, the family of “The Witch” would still face challenges, as any family does when the children begin their adolescence. It is the fact that there is an entity seeking to do them harm that makes the otherwise mundane elements of the film so chilling.
The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary with director Robert Eggers as well as a panel discussion with Eggers and folklorists from Salem, Massachusetts. There’s also a nice behind-the-scenes documentary called “The Witch: A Primal Folklore” that explains many of the very specific choices Eggers made in the production. Finally, viewers can access a design gallery to check out the development of the look of the film from the pre-production stage.
“The Witch” is not for everyone, but for the right person, it is a brilliant portrait of a family in crisis, featuring a deliberately dreary and effective palate, a chilling soundtrack and an overall viscerally effective sound design. I enjoyed it in the theaters, but I found it grew on me when I watched it again on Blu-ray. It might end up being one of my favorite films of 2016.