A soul-shaking, blood-curdling, skin-crawling, bone-chilling & nerve-wracking exercise in persistently looming dread, paranoia-inducing terror & never-ending nightmare, The Witch (stylized as The VVitch) is one of the best films I have ever seen. Crafted with immaculate precision, told with remarkable composure, and showcasing extraordinary level of craftsmanship in each n every aspect, this diabolical folktale is an unnatural, uncanny & unsettling work of horror that’s destined to rank amongst the greatest works of 21st century cinema in the years to come.
Set in 17th century, the story of The Witch (also known as The Witch: A New-England Folktale) concerns a family of devout Christians who are banished from their Puritan plantation due to differences between their religion principles. Homesteading on the edge of a secluded wilderness, they build a sustainable life for themselves but when the family’s youngest mysteriously vanishes from the premises and their crops fail, the unit starts to crumble and begins turning on one another, which ultimately leaves them vulnerable to an evil that tears them apart.
Written & directed by Robert Eggers in what’s actually his directorial debut, The Witch is an exceptional start to his filmmaking career and is undoubtedly one of the strongest debuts in recent memory. Eggers’ direction exudes both passion & perseverance plus every segment that ends up in the final print exhibits a level of confidence & restraint that one expects from an auteur. Devoid of jump scares, cheap thrills & all the usual tropes most horror films of today typically rely on to deliver the chills, this film defies genre conventions throughout its runtime to shape itself up as something that feels as unique as it is unearthly.
Eggers’ writing is top-notch as well, for the screenplay in itself is a product of painstaking research that was carried out to bring this historical period piece to life with as much authenticity as possible. Even the wordings in the script are based on the writings from the time which not only assists in illustrating the iconography of 17th century New England but also its way of life. The story isn’t short on folklore concerning witches, witchcraft & black magic either, and even incorporates some of that Enochian tongue into the narrative. And also lending credibility to its plot are its set of believable characters whose finely scripted arcs result in another full score for Eggers.
Production design team successfully creates a sinister environment that reeks of evil, and the peripherals of the isolated surroundings only add more eeriness to the whole setting. Cinematography is another highlight, relying on natural light to imbue a sense of realism, while the very earthy tones, cold colour palette & controlled manoeuvring of the camera inculcate an aura of foreboding that only magnifies as the plot progresses. Editing is methodically carried out, and every bit of its 93 minutes runtime plays a relevant role in the final outcome. And last but not the least, Mark Korven’s terrifying soundtrack further ups the ante by amplifying its nightmarish element, thus catapulting the viewing experience to another level.
While the film works as a chilling portrait of a family unraveling within their own sins, The Witch is mainly Thomasin’s story, for she is targeted from the very beginning. Continuously forced to feel guilty for Samuel’s disappearance and unreasonably reprimanded for others’ wrongdoings, all these false accusations keep tormenting & breaking her will little by little and eventually leave her in a completely shattered, hopeless & desperate state, a perfect recipe for the evil to seduce its prey. And the sincerity with which Anya Taylor-Joy renders her on screen and exhibits her increasing vulnerability is the sole reason why she is an absolute revelation in the given role. It is, by every means, an outstanding input from the young actress.
The rest of the cast, consisting of Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw & others, chip in with excellent contributions in their respective roles. Ineson & Dickie are in as Thomasin’s parents and while the former delivers a measured performance, the latter’s input only gets more unhinged with time. Scrimshaw plays Thomasin’s brother and is committed to his role. Children mostly come off as annoying in horror movies but the twins present in this tale, Mercy & Jonas, are legitimately creepy. The titular character keeps surfacing from time to time, plus her introductory scene is so disturbing that its very image may continue haunting the viewers long after the credits have rolled. But the real show-stealer is Black Phillip, and you have to see it for yourself to know why.
On an overall scale, The Witch is a deeply unnerving, extremely disquieting & powerfully affecting cinema that feels like it was crafted by the Devil himself. An absolute masterwork of genre filmmaking that’s as polished in storytelling department as it is accomplished on technical scale, this ill-omened folktale of a family that gets torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic & possession features none of the clichés & conventions that are so prevalent in contemporary horror and it’s one reason why it may not appease everyone. Instead, it is one of those rare new arrivals that feel so fresh, original & pathbreaking that it makes other recent entries look like the work of amateurs. The best movie of the year, one of the finest films of the decade, and one of the genuinely great works of horror in recent memory, The Witch is an impeccable feat from a debutant filmmaker that expands the horizons of horror cinema by pushing it into uncharted realms. One hundred percent recommended. Multiple viewings advised.