Catching up on some of the UK’s 2016 film releases, Lee checked out 17th Century-based The Witch.
The supernatural continues to fascinate us mere mortals; often manifesting to teach us lessons or portray manifestations of our abstract human rules and concepts, the best ghost and witch and monster stories tell us a little about ourselves and do it in such a way that we don’t get bored waiting to be told. Exploiting fear to get across a point has proven a particularly effective tactic over the centuries, and here The Witch comes in, an old-fashioned twist on a older-fashioned tale with some surprisingly modern ambitions.
Underneath its thick atmosphere and stellar performances, there’s a cautionary reading on religion and the effects of basing a family’s connection around it. In a world of constant doubt and changing ideals, establishing relationships based on the people and not their beliefs is an important outlook to embody, otherwise that world’s gonna burn your house down and scare the goats. It’s a fun spin on what would have been the original intentions of these stories, the ‘don’t steal, don’t fuck, don’t kill’s, taking the focus to what ties this family together and then exploiting its weaknesses through wave after wave of paranormal interference until one by one they turn.
As this is a story about the supernatural picking on a family, do expect some gore and tragic imagery. Do not expect jump scares or your cheaper horror conventions however; director Robert Eggers channels Kubrick in his slow draw and still frames to mounting chaos and inevitable crescendo. This is a story told in horror imagery and tonal dread, one that wishes to play with the mind more than the stomach, and it’s not only effective but its tight pacing makes sure you’ve barely contemplated one fate before another twist is handed to you. Add some open-ended readings starvation and exile, a little Puritan repression and an ending that’s so fun you could read it as tongue-in-cheek and you’ve got a horror film that doesn’t want you simply to experience it but to remember it and think of it when you want a portal to bleaker, sadder world than ours.
Like a good book, the details make the narrative all that more involved, and here The Witch does all it can its short runtime to have us come back and dread it all over again. Fun, subversive and, most importantly, genuinely creepy, it’s a remarkable achievement in its simplicity.