Spoilers follow ...
- The Witch review by NP
What is it that separates a good film from a bad one? Certainly not budget (or lack of), not even acting talent. Not necessarily a cohesive story. Generally speaking, it is down to individual taste. With horror, gore and special effects can be added to the list of things that don’t really matter – it is, I suppose, a translation of convincing mood, of atmosphere, of fear. I say all this because ‘The Witch’ has received widespread acclaim, yet is almost the polar opposite of successful horror films of modern times.
This concentrates on the ascension (or descension?) of young Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) into a witch. Beginning with the exile of a family of six (Shortly – if briefly to become seven) to a farm beside a secluded forest. The head of the family William (Ralph Ineson) does his best to provide for them, but lacks skill as a hunter and is surrounded by mysteriously failing crops. Whilst in the care of Thomasin, the new baby vanishes – her older brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) also disappears only to return in a state of possession, and the two remaining youngest, Jonas and Mercy, display increasingly frightening behaviour. It seems an unexplained and tragic series of coincidences mars Thomasin, but as things transpire, events seem pre-ordained by the legendry Black Philip.
As a glut of unexplained circumstances occur that disposes of her family, Thomasin wanders in a trance, into the forest where she comes across a haven of naked witches who, after completing a ritual of dance movement around a blazing fire, physically rise and ascend into the trees. Laughing, Thomasin joins them.
The acting in this is extraordinary throughout, even from the youngest members of William’s family. Occasionally, the olde-world dialogue spoken with thick, regional accents, is hard to make out. And we only see a witch once in close-up. A seductive, long-haired woman emerges from a cottage deep in the forest and appears to seduce young Caleb (there is also an incident where her coven break into the barn when Thomasin has been imprisoned by her father, and drink the blood of the animals, but this is shrouded in darkness).
It has been suggested by a handful of reviewers that this could be a kind of loose prequel to ‘The Blair Witch Project (1999)’, which, if you forget the change in location, is an interesting possibility – if you want it to be. Any connection is, I think, entirely unintentional.
This is a leisurely-paced, stunningly shot psychological horror in which a family’s worst fears actually become a distinct possibility. It won’t please everyone, although it did well commercially and received well deserved critical acclaim.
4 out of 4 members found this review helpful.
Harry Potter it ain't!
- The Witch review by Count Otto Black
This is a well-made film. The actors give it all they've got. The period atmosphere is as authentic as it possibly could be without the use of a time machine. It's exactly the kind of movie critics fall over themselves to praise because it's a horror film that makes a serious point. But I didn't actually enjoy it in the slightest. And as for that serious point, there must be one, otherwise everybody involved wouldn't be taking the film so seriously, but I was completely unable to figure out what it was.
Obviously inspired by "The Crucible", this bleak tale of a New England family so fundamentalist that even the other Puritans kick them out for being too religious is utterly dismal from beginning to end. Their efforts to hack a farm out of the wilderness result in diseased crops, dead livestock, and, as the film progresses, more and more dead humans, all of which the grim patriarch (Ralph Ineson, who is very good as a horribly misguided man genuinely trying to do his best) and his increasingly deranged wife start to suspect may be caused by witchcraft. And in the absence of anyone else to blame, they turn their inquisitorial attention on their children.
Everybody is miserable all the time, constantly begging God not to condemn them to Hell for whatever trivial sins they fear they might have committed. And when the children start dying (there's no point in avoiding spoilers after that four-star review above has already given away the entire plot), their joyless fanaticism degenerates into ranting insanity. It's as much fun as it sounds.
And ultimately it's weirdly pointless. We're given repeated hints, and eventually absolute proof that, although the adolescent girl at the heart of the story is wrongly suspected by her parents of being a witch, actual witches in the most literal, medieval sense of the word are for some reason lurking in the woods (the only one we get a good look at seems to have escaped from a particularly dark adaptation of "Snow White"). So these religious fanatics are right to fear that servants of the devil who can fly on brooms and turn into animals may steal their babies, blight their crops, and murder them by magic, but they're doomed anyway.
In the end, this is just a well-crafted and well-acted but extremely depressing and very slow horror film with an agenda no more profound than that of a great many other cynically nihilistic horror films: almost everyone dies in nasty ways, and the devil wins. Though I did smile momentarily when the clearly underage leading lady takes her clothes off and is miraculously replaced by that dimly-lit woman on the poster who must be about 10 years older than she is.
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.
Overwrought and underwhelming
- The Witch review by Alphaville
A 17th century god-fearing New England family are overly concerned about witchery in the woods in this low-budget fare. With a deathly slow pace and overwrought religiosity, the film will soon have your finger hovering over the fast forward button. The tense atmosphere is well-drawn, which seems to have won over a number of critics but, with apologies to a cast that does its best to animate the slender material, there’s little here to warrant a look. The Crucible it ain’t.
For a would-be scary movie it’s completely scare-free. Valiant attempts by an eerie soundtrack to up the ante merely begin to pall. In the words of Monty Python, it all gets rather silly, with laugh-out-loud scenes involving a devilish billy-goat (uncredited in the end-titles). At 88 minutes it still seems long. You know a film’s failing when the publicists resort to a misleading image of a naked woman on the poster to reel in voyeuristic customers (who will be sorely disappointed).
2 out of 3 members found this review helpful.