The Witch

The Witch

The trend of good independent horror movies coming out once a year has continued into 2016 for the third year in row with The Witch. Truly frightening, The Witch (or as it’s sometimes stylized, The VVitch) is sort of an odd one to describe. The Babadook was a horror film in the style of 1970’s horror films, specifically The Exorcist. It Follows was a horror film in the style of 1980’s horror films, specifically Halloween. Even for how unique Goodnight Mommy was, it still fit into a certain style, namely the 1990’s horror films of Michael Haneke (Funny Games, Caché).

The Witch sort of defies any pre-set style of horror. It’s moody, atmospheric, filled with dread, and doesn’t have any jump scares. Really, on paper it sounds kind of boring. Yet it generates scares seemingly out of nowhere. It terrified me in ways I didn’t even know existed. Which scared me even more.

The plot is minimal, so it’s hard to describe too much of it. A Puritan family leaves their village to live out on their own. They find a nice plot of land next to a forest to build a house. The dread in this movie is so strong that the simple shot of the woods is terrifying.

The family consists of a mother and father, followed by in descending order of age; a daughter, Thomasin, a son, Caleb, twins (boy and girl, Mercy and Jonas), and an infant boy Samuel. Life is fine for them.

Until Samuel disappears.

This is where the unease sets in. Thomasin was the last on to be with Samuel, so she’s quickly blamed by her mother. The twins think that a witch took him, and that Thomasin is in fact a witch. Crops begin to die, so the father and Caleb have to start hunting for their food, meaning long trips into the increasingly terrifying woods. And the endless overcast setting seems to be a foreboding reminder that evil is about.

The best movies are the ones where you don’t know what will happen next. At no point in The Witch was I sure what was going to happen. There was a thousand directions the movie could go. Even five minutes before the ending I couldn’t guess how it would end. Not only is that great moviemaking, but it also makes it that much scarier when you don’t know what’s coming.

Robert Eggers wrote and directed it, and like Jennifer Kent for The Babadook and Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala for Goodnight Mommy, it’s his first movie (It Follows was David Robert Mitchell’s second feature). It’s an impressive debut on many levels. Aside from the scariness, his script and characters are really good. Most of the family is unsympathetic. In fact, there was only two characters I actually liked. And that’s a good thing. Not liking most of the people made it easier to see why they would start turning on each other. It’s not fun to watch, but it makes since why they would act that way.

Eggers also manages to get stellar performances out of them all, which is easier said than done when you realize half the cast is child actors. Harvey Scrimshaw and Anya Taylor-Joy are probably the best, but I also really liked Ralph Ineson as their father. Even with all the chaos going on, he still tries his best to keep his family from turning on each other and remains sympathetic throughout.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Witch is the fact an independent horror film with a bunch of no-name actors and newcomers got as wide of a release as it did. And that’s a good thing. If more people see a movie like this, maybe more people will realize what a good horror movie looks like. It’s unlikely, but a guy can hope.