A wicked little movie about Puritan-era witches. The real kind.
I finally got around to seeing this gem from a few years back and I’m sorry it took me so long. The Witch is one of those movies that all of my friends told me I had to see, but it just never seemed like the right time. I have a disinclination toward any period movie set in the pre-industrial age. I resisted Game of Thrones for the longest time for the same reason. I just don’t like seeing people chop wood and wear animal skins and say things like “doth” and “thou.” Maybe it was that miserable Ren Faire experience when I was in high school that made me this way. I dunno.
So it’s a testament to the excellence of The Witch that I liked it so much because there are a LOT of “doths” and “thous” in this film, not to mention wood chopping. So, so much wood chopping. Yes, The Witch is top notch AND it clocks in at the perfect length: 92 min. Just enough time to set up all the necessary terror pins and knock them all down.
The time is Puritan-era New England. A God-fearing family is cast out of a frontier town for disrespecting the church leadership. At least that’s what I think happened. I had to turn on the subtitles about 10 minutes in so I could follow what the main family was saying to each other, their words almost totally obscured by a thick, period-appropriate, scottish brogue. But the movie is so perfectly crafted, I could have turned the sound off and I still would have understood the entire terrifying story.
I don’t want to spoil too much, but, needless to say, the family, after building a homestead in the middle of the forest, is soon beset by evil that comes from the surrounding wood. The director, Robert Eggers, wisely chooses to keep most of the gore outside the frame and the evil in the shadows. But while this kind of restraint drove me nuts in A Ghost Story, Eggers is sure never to waste our time with useless diversions or pretentiously long takes. Every scene is an example of filmmaking restraint and economy as the terror screws turn tighter and tighter and the family loses members one by one. Eventually, the eldest daughter (the excellent Anya Taylor-Joy) is accused of being the cause of all the cursed events.
I won’t spoil the ending, but it ranks up there with the endings of Rosemary’s Baby and Poltergeist (two of my absolute favorites.) I sincerely hope that M. Night Shyamalan watched this movie and kicked himself for not thinking of it, and cursed himself for wasting his time making The Village – a similarly themed movie that likely cost ten times as much, but didn’t have half the amount of creative integrity or guts (both the brave kind and the real kind) that The Witch has.