An innovative horror that never leans on clichéd notions of blood and guts!
Friday the 11th marks the release of Robert Eggers’s feature debut with The Witch; a horror, as the tagline informs us, based on a New England folktale.
The film starts as William (Ralph Ineson) and his family are excommunicated from the plantation they are living on and find their way to the outskirts of a desolate woodland. Without giving away too much, the woodland hides a few secrets (obviously!).
Egger’s subtle changes in camera angles create a sense of dread that, rather than jumps out at you, creeps every closer as each frame progresses. It is not only Eggers’s subtleness at the helm of the camera that makes The Witch a hair raising horror, but also the subtlety of his script which seems to deprive us of what would be considered explicit horror. I’ve always thought that horror is more effective when it is suggestive rather than explicit and Eggers’s weaves each intricate piece of action into a cornucopia of thrills and scares that are so effective precisely because they are not explicit, and invite us, the viewer, to actively take part in forming the horror. Eggers teases us into wanting the camera to linger just that few seconds longer but each time we are denied.
However, despite Eggers’ skill as a director and writer, no story can be told without characters and the casting of Anya Taylor-Joy, (whom Eggers casted himself) in her feature debut, is a masterstroke. Taylor-Joy portrays Thomasin, the oldest child in the family, and brings a likeability that can only endear the viewer as she is placed within a constricting Puritan society in which religious dogma is paramount. Eggers commented that the language of The Witch proved a stumbling block when it came to casting but for Taylor-Joy each sentence flows seamlessly to the next while, with the simplest furrow of her brow, she conveys an avalanche of emotion, which allows the story to unfold without feeling the need to conjure a forced jump scare or an unnecessary bloodbath, something the horror genre has reduced itself to in recent times.
The brilliance of Mark Korven’s sinister score is yet another reason The Witch is a must watch. And, just like Eggers’s willingness to ask the viewer to interpret events, Korven’s score is never overbearing or feel like it has over stayed it’s welcome. The score of aggressive violins comes in at just the right moment to add a looming sense of dread that one cant help but buy into.
I must say that I am not a huge horror aficionado but The Witch is a horror that sucks you in, whether you want it to or not. From its devastating subtlety to its desire not to hide behind CGI, The Witch hooks you early, and clocking in at just over 90 minutes, it refuses to relinquish you. The Witch isn’t simply a film about witchcraft (which itself is a topic that would win me over), it’s an assured, layered horror that explores the human condition in the context of 17th century Puritan society, while with the brilliance of Taylor-Joy on camera and Eggers behind it, I think it’s safe to say the horror genre is in safe hands.
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Running Time: 93 minutes