Set in New England in the 17th Century and centring on devout Christians Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie and their four kids. After being banished from a relatively safe life on the plantation, they’ve made a home for themselves somewhere out in the wilderness. Things are not going well for them, however. Their crops are failing and food is scarce for them to eat through the winter. Meanwhile, eldest daughter Anya Taylor-Joy loses sight of her newborn sibling whilst playing in the woods with the others. Later, Taylor-Joy ventures into the forest again with brother Harvey Scrimshaw who wants to go hunting, and he goes missing too. And that’s when the anger, arguing, and accusations begin for this tight-knit family who start to question if God has forsaken them.
I think this directorial debut from writer-director Robert Eggers has been poorly marketed, and is best viewed by people who don’t actually like horror films, if anything. A crushing disappointment to me after all the hype (Stephen King loved it) and a pretty good but misleading trailer, this one’s an excruciatingly slow period drama with occasional horror elements. I was expecting a Hammer-esque period horror film with occasional dramatic elements.
It starts to pick up a bit after the 30-40 minute mark, and it gets weird, creepy and a little bit wrong. However, even then I just wasn’t as into this as I thought I’d be nor expected to be. Basically, it’s “The Village” with an ending that isn’t completely awful. The characters were never sympathetic enough or interesting enough to invest me in their story, and while the ending is rather interesting it’s somewhat of a chore getting there. The performances by Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Dickie are pretty good, but veteran character actor Ralph Ineson is just OK, and Harvey Scrimshaw always seemed too modern and like he was trying to remember his lines because he doesn’t understand the dialogue. On the plus side, it looks stunning, especially if you like your dead trees shot at night like I do. Seriously, this film has the creepiest, most unsettlingly doom-laden forest I’ve ever seen. It’s a shame the film doesn’t make more (and better) use of it.
I’m not entirely certain why this one has gotten rave reviews. I found it tedious, slow-moving, and ultimately getting the drama-to-horror ratio terribly out of whack. I was glad that there were no cheap ‘boo’ scare tactics, but this certainly isn’t “Repulsion”, “The Haunting” (the original), or “The Babadook” on the scary-meter. I was expecting perhaps a scary version of “Witchfinder General” with a touch of “The Crucible”, instead it was more of a kitchen sink drama in period dress and in slow-motion. Very slow-motion. With practically no “Witchfinder General” elements whatsoever.
I guess if you don't go into the film with the mind-set that I had, you might come out of it having been gripped and ultimately terrified by it. I could see that being possible, but I have to report my own experience, and I was entirely unmoved. Some have said that it's an experience they weren't able to shake for days afterwards. I doubt I'll much think about this film ever again. Absolutely fantastic to look at, but I didn't much care.