Robert Eggers’ The Witch is an atmospheric and unnerving horror. It is a finely crafted film that is sure to unsettle its audience.
A family in 1630s New England move from a settlement to their own space after their views conflict with those of the community. When their newborn son vanishes, the family begins to suspect daughter Thomasin is at fault. Fears grow with additional strange occurrences…
The Witch employs period folktale to craft its narrative of suspicion and fear in seventeenth-century New England. Writer-director Robert Eggers uses the audience’s knowledge of that period’s superstition and anxiety about witchcraft in his crafting of the film. The film does not need a lot of exposition to build a picture of fears at the time; this is evident through the fervent religion that the protagonists practice. Eggers uses this premise to wreak fear and distrust as the film progresses.
Utilising folklore from the period, Robert Eggers creates a striking spectre. There is much in the film that is derived from base symbolism. The Witch shows viewers the antagonist early on in proceedings. Despite this, there is still a sense of mystery that is retained until the film’s climax. To a certain extent, the antagonist is something of a red herring, as the family’s internal turmoil takes centre stage. This inward-looking approach makes the film a more satisfying watch.
The Witch is very much about the fear of womanhood, as expressed by Thomasin and the attitudes towards her. In this way, the film reflects the era it is set in. There is a sense of witchcraft being an allegory for female puberty, yet the film does not get to hung up on this. Performances in the film are great. Anya Taylor-Joy offers a strong performance as Thomasin, as do Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie. Harvey Scrimshaw is believable throughout as Caleb.
The setting of The Witch is fantastic. There is a real air of isolation which adds to the atmosphere. The woods are depicted as foreboding, and for good reason. Fear is generated in a tempered but effective manner. There is a bit of a slow build, but this works well to generate later tension. The sound design is great; it goes a long way in setting the scene.
The Witch is a genuinely unnerving watch. This wonderful directorial debut from Eggers will have viewers keen to see what he does next.