Or should I pander to the way the movie spells it and type THE VVITCH? Dear god, that’s annoying. It’s so obviously two V’s, it’s not as clever as you think it is, filmmakers. But in any case, there isn’t much of a history into how I got into this one. I saw a trailer of it while watching another movie. But the thing that got me interested was how it was being labeled as one of the scariest movies in years. Oh please, they were saying that about PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and that bored the crap out of me. But, I couldn’t lie, the period setting, the creepy atmosphere, the dark and disturbing shots, I was a tad curious, despite my chronic hatred for horror movies. Well, it’s finally out of the independent circuit and into mainstream cinema. Do the early reviews blow it out of proportion, or is it that masterpiece that they’ve been saying it is? This is my honest opinion of THE WITCH.
Set during the backdrop of the 1630’s, a religious family banished from their home for their father, William’s (Ralph Ineson) beliefs set up a quaint farm in the wilderness near an ominous forest. However, things begin to happen that make life far harder for them. While playing with the family baby, Samuel, eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) mysteriously loses the baby to an unknown entity carrying him off to the woods. After fruitless searching, the family accepts that Samuel is gone and blame wolves for the baby’s abduction. The mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie), becomes reclusive and stays in bed praying a majority of the day while the rest try to carry on. But as time goes by, more mysterious things begin to happen as talk from the youngest siblings, the twins, Jonas (Lucas Dawson) and Mercy (Ellie Grainger), start spouting that a witch is responsible for their poor disposition, which is fueled by Thomasin saying that it’s herself that’s the witch in order to silence Mercy’s prattling. Soon, the family is slowly torn apart by their fears and the unexplained.
FUN FACT: The Satanic Temple has endorsed this movie and hosted several screenings of the film. Their spokesperson, Jex Blackmore, addressed the film as “an impressive presentation of Satanic insight that will inform contemporary discussion of religious experience.” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4263482/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv)
Well, here’s a rarity. A horror movie that I actually like. DISCLAIMER though, it’s not a horror movie with jump-scares. If that’s your thrill, then this movie won’t be for you. It’s an atmospheric movie with creepy and disturbing imagery, rather than something popping up to make sure you’re still awake. In my opinion, that’s the best kind of horror film.
A usual horror trope is to make cliche characters that are at worst, unlikable, or at best, passable. Rarely do you get a real character to emotionally invest in, but this movie doesn’t have just one or two well-written characters, it’s the entire ensemble. Thomasin is endearing. The younger brother, Caleb, played by Harvey Scrimshaw, is an empathetic character. William, Katherine, the twin, they’re all sympathetic or characters that make sense. When baby Samuel goes missing, it’s a big deal and maintains that dread through most of the story, at least where it makes sense. Everyone deals with the loss in their own way. William is trying to move on and focus on keeping the rest of the family sustained through the winter. Katherine is traumatized and spends her days crying and praying. Thomasin is numb from guilt and despair. Caleb is confused and wants answers to everyone’s emotions. The twins are too young to understand, so they live blissfully unaware of the loss. There’s blame tossed around, there’s blame trying to be dissipated, there’s confusion, crises of faith, division among family, struggle to maintain unity, it’s a very refreshing and heart-breaking cast of characters that are incredibly so likable and very well-acted.
This is especially true for Thomasin, whom the story follows a little more closely than the rest. Taylor-Joy brings a great deal of heart to the film as a young girl who has the most responsibilities of her siblings, including trying to keep the youngest in check, and hence when she falters, she’s blamed rather viciously sometimes. She’s trying to keep it all together, and for the most part is very mature and strong-willed, but she’s clearly scared, sad, even frustrated at times. This emotional gauntlet is not easy to do even for seasoned actors, but Taylor-Joy should be commended for her fantastic performance. I hope this girl finds great work in the future.
But most importantly is how the movie stays with you. The movie certainly ends in a non-conventional way and leaves a surprising amount of room for interpretation. By the end of it, the family is utterly convinced that Thomasin is a witch and that she’s responsible for everything that’s happening to the family. We soon learn that Black Phillip, the black goat of the farm, is an evil entity in disguise, possibly the devil, and Thomasin asks the goat for deliverance; to be taken away from the life she knows. She surrenders herself to it completely and she is taken to a small coven of other witches, and that she shares a bit of their ominous powers. There’s a lot that can be a subject of debate. Was Thomasin always the witch plaguing the family? Was she an unknowing witch accidentally plaguing the family? Did she go insane and surrender herself to the only force that could take care of her? Is she just flat-out crazy and all of this taking place in her head? There’s a lot of fun topics to discuss.
It’s truly remarkable that a film, especially a horror film, will leave me engulfed in its own story and just watch it for its intensity or intrigue, instead of me actively finding problems with it, of which, there aren’t many.
For one thing, the characters do speak in an old-timey fashion. “Thine husband,” “thy child,” that sort of talk. It’s pretty tedious to follow the dialog if you’re not prepared for it, which I wasn’t. In fact, it wasn’t until the second half of the movie where following the dialog was easier. But the fact that it was difficult at all isn’t necessarily a good thing. Authenticity is great, but… damn, I can do with some creative liberties for the sheer purpose of understanding what the fuck everyone’s saying.
I also found that Caleb’s lust for his own sister goes almost nowhere.
I mean, he knows it’s wrong, and he probably pays for it later on by getting killed by witchcraft, but he makes up for it by being a protective brother. It’s not like he makes a sick move on her or anything, but I did sit there hoping this wouldn’t just be for shock-value… which it kind of was. If these deaths were going the route of the movie, SE7EN, people dying from the seven deadly sins they’re guilty of representing, then that would have been fine. Caleb dies of his lust for his sister, the mom dies of her wrath or sloth when Samuel was taken, the dad from his pride or his wrath as well, it looked like it was going in that direction. But as there aren’t enough people in the story to kill off in that way, and there’s too many unaccounted characters that aren’t explicitly shown that die, so the awesomeness of that idea goes out the window.
Also, the dad kind of just accepts that his daughter is a witch… pretty sporadically. A few minutes ago, he didn’t believe it, then a few minutes later, he believes it because… the children were going crazy, except her. Just like that, she’s a witch. “Lock her up with the creepy black goat with her siblings and force them to REALLY think about what they’ve done.” *finger wagging* I just didn’t buy that. Not enough development.
And seriously, what DID happen to the twins after that night? They just disappeared and there’s absolutely no reaction whatsoever to their absence. Not by Thomasin, not by the dad, not by the mom, it’s just… “eh, they were annoying shits anyway, who gives a fuck?”
And my final complaint… cute fuzzy bunnies are not scary. Sorry, movie, but I wanted to cuddle that adorably precious critter and keep it as a pet, not throw holy water and “Hail Marys” at it. In the end, it was the goat that was the evil force all along, so why the emphasis on the bunny?
While I disagree with the critics that the movie is scary, it definitely leaves an impression, but there are a few too many little complaints that I have that prevent it from being truly great. It’s still a VERY well done movie and deserves a viewing if you’re ready for a change in how horror movies are made.
My honest rating: a strong 4/5.