RELEASED: 11th March 2016
DIRECTOR: Robert Eggers
CAST: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Julian Richings, Bathsheba Garnett and Sarah Stephens
BOX OFFICE WORLDWIDE: $40.4m
The Witch is set in 1630’s New England, where we witness English settler William, Katherine, and their four children leave the Puritan Plymouth Colony over a dispute of the New Testament. The family head into a nearby large, secluded forest and as William begins settling up a farm on some empty land, Katherine gives birth to their son Samuel. One day, the family’s fortunes begin to take a turn for the worst when Thomasin is playing peekaboo with young Samuel when the baby abruptly disappears and when the crops begin to fail, the family slowly begins to turn on one another.
Released in the festival circuit in 2015, then cinematically in 2016, The Witch marked the directorial feature debut of Robert Eggers. From the moment the family leave and move further and further into the secluded forest, there’s a certain creepiness and unease to it all that just increases for the viewer as the film progresses, particularly the moment that baby Samuel is suddenly snatched, quite literally, in front of Thomasin, and the atmospheric tension is heightened for the viewer from that moment on. You can tell when watching the film that it feels like a passion project for Robert Eggers, who grew up in New Hampshire, with the audience being let in that the family is being targeted by a witch, while the family remain in the dark, leading to a build-up of accusations, paranoia and blind faith that ultimately tear them apart. While the film might disappoint horror fans coming in looking for a gorefest, as the film is paced more as a supernatural drama, building the tension so well that when it delivers some striking imagery, it makes the horror element more impactful. Eggers feature debut is confidently directed here, with some lovely cinematographer by Jarin Blaschke capturing the imposing landscape around the family, and Mark Korven’s score is eery that elevates certain scenes to making the viewer feeling uncomfortable. While the dialogue might not be to everyone’s taste, as it recreates dialect from 17-century transcripts, the film has some wonderful performances amongst the ensemble, with Ralph Ineson in fine form as husband William, whose struggling to provide for his family, with Kate Dickie also give a really good performance as wife Katherine, particularly as she mentally starts to deteriorate due to the sudden loss of young William, clashing over the course of the film with Thomasin. Harvey Scrimshaw is excellent as the eldest son, Caleb, particularly in one sequence in which he appears to go for an out-of-body experience in proclaiming his love to Christ and it’s such a well-acted scene. The highlight however is the star-making performance of Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, balancing the fine line of having wide-eyed innocence to having quick wits as she and her mother battle for superiority amongst the family. As for Charlie, the goat gives a solid performance as Black Phillip.
FAVOURITE SCENE: The final scene in which we learn of Thomasin’s fate, capped off with Mark Korven’s score, Eggers’ direction and Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography. One of my favourite endings from last decade.
FAVOURITE QUOTE: “Black Phillip, Black Phillip, a crown grows out his head. Black Phillip, Black Phillip, to nanny queen is wed. Jump to the fence post. Running in the stall. Black Phillip, Black Phillip, king of all.” – Jonas and Mercy
DID YOU KNOW: There were more scenes planned to involve Black Phillip, but because he was not as well trained as planned, the ideas had to be scratched.