If you go into the woods today you’re sure for a grim surprise, especially if you watch The Witch.
The Witch, directed by first time director Robert Eggers, tells the story of a Puritan family who, after being forced from their home for their father’s religious zealotry, encounter a sinister and malevolent evil in the woods behind their New England farm.
As tensions begin to rise and accusations are made, the family must try and come to terms with the diabolical forces that plague them, be they real or imagined.
The Witch is a film that revels in making its audience feel uncomfortable, a bit like Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, and it may be one of the first movies I’ve ever reviewed where I loved the film but I’m not sure if I can actually recommend it to audiences.
Watching this film was a horrifying, gut wrenching experience that at times left my mouth agape. You haven’t felt true panic until you’ve seen a naked old crone take a blunt knife, turn a baby inside out, and baptise herself in its gore and viscera.
If that sentence horrifies you, imagine how I felt while watching it. Honestly, I was sweating in my seat barely believing what I’d seen and praying that the poor child survived. That’s the type of film we’re talking about – a movie that pulls no punches when it comes to showing evil.
Unlike other horror films, The Witch doesn’t rely on lazy jump scares to frighten its audience, instead it slowly notches up the tension like an old crone putting a cauldron on the fire until the terror literally begins to boil over and the screaming begins.
Yet, despite the slow-build, the film managed in the first ten minutes to make me more afraid of the woods than The Forest did in it’s whole run time.
All of the cast do a wonderful job portraying a family slowly being undone by evil and there’s some particularly difficult dialogue (all of the characters speak in a Shakespearean olde worlde style which was taken from real life accounts of witches).
Of particular note are Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin and Ralph Ineson as William who bring an intensity to their roles which grounds some of the film’s more outlandish elements.
No discussion of The Witch would be complete without a mention of its impressive use of music which was written by Mark Korven – who worked on another horror favourite of mine, The Cube.
The film’s score is best described as powerfully discordant and works in tandem with some of the more understated visuals to create an uncomfortable atmosphere without relying on bloodshed to frighten the audience.
The film isn’t without its flaws however, the major problem for the film is that it’s going to be incredibly divisive for audiences. Some will love its slow burn approach, while others will find it badly paced and boring.
Even the more extreme moments are sure to split viewers, with some thinking the horror goes too far while others will find it about as thrilling as a trip to the supermarket.
There are also a few loose plots threads left hanging that, while I’m sure are deliberate, are going to infuriate some audiences. Another small problem with the film is the Shakespearean dialogue, which I thought lent the film a level of authenticity, but I’m willing to admit could become irritating if you weren’t expecting it.
While the film isn’t perfect, it’s a remarkable horror film and the acting, dialogue, music and cinematography all come together to produce a wonderful atmosphere of tension and dread, which helps prove that horror films can be so much more than a collection of clichés glued together with a threadbare script.
If you’re feeling brave why not head out and see The Witch – just expect to be scared!