The Witch (A24, R)

It’s slower and of an entirely different strain than what most horror film fans are used to—even sophisticated horror film fans.

The WitchAfter premiering to much celebration at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, the new film The Witch has been very much anticipated by the horror film crowd, who traditionally have too few good films to choose from. (But who have been served better than usual lately by the likes of It Follows and The Babadook.) However, The Witch is quite a different beast from these films (as it is from The Blair Witch Project, which only really shares Sundance and a word in the title with this film), as it’s more about moody atmospherics than traditional scares, and in many ways is much more comparable to something like The Exorcist than it is many modern horror movies.

Newcomer writer/director Robert Eggers here recreates pre-Salem Witch Trial 17th Century New England to tell his tale. And while the setting, a lone house near a forest, probably didn’t need a ton of work, the characters’ costumes and especially their dialogue and mannerisms surely did. But don’t sweat it if you can’t understand what characters are saying all of the time, or if you can understand them but have no idea what they’re talking about—the plot of the film, and by that I mean the threat, takes shape clearly enough whether you’re able to follow the dialogue or not. This in itself is a benefit/curse of the film’s, as it’s stodgy and difficult to follow enough that a lot of its audience will probably not pay as much attention as they should to the first half, only to find themselves wishing they’d been more attentive when it gets to the much more interesting second half.

Here we follow a somewhat communication-strained family of seven, and our main character is Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the eldest child. There is some trouble in the aforementioned woods adjacent to the house, and while none of the characters are able to quite pinpoint what it is, it does seem to be the source of follies that befall the family: one child disappears, and while looking for that errant youngster another child seems to become possessed. The children of the family, at first, think it’s funny to claim responsibility for the possession until they start to come around to the idea that A) the possession is real, and B) there’s something in the woods that is actually capable of possessing human beings. Elsewhere, we have a killer rabbit not quite of the same breed as what one would find in Monty Python, and of course there are rumors of that titular witch.

The Witch is one of those movies I’m anxious to see the reaction to. As I’ve said, it’s slower and of an entirely different strain that what most horror film fans are used to—even sophisticated horror film fans—and once it hits video/streaming/cable/etc, a lot of its audience won’t be as inclined to sit through the slow-ish first half as those who see it in the theatre will be. That said, it’s a film I’ve already found myself mentally returning to quite often in the eight days since I’ve seen it, and it was the subject of a rather spirited debate, almost all positive, after its local press screening. In a just world, it would succeed greatly, as that would hopefully lead to the production of more risky films of this level of quality. | Pete Timmermann


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