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The Witch
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The Witch (2015)

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Plot Summary:
"New England, 1630: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life, homesteading on the edge of an impassible wilderness, with five children. When their newborn son mysteriously vanishes and their crops fail, the family begins to turn on one another. 'The Witch' is a chilling portrait of a family unraveling within their own fears and anxieties, leaving them prey for an inescapable evil."

Review by
Ryan McDonald
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Review Date: 02 June 2017 My Rating: out of 5


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.

Reviewer: Richard Mansfield @MansfieldDark
Location:London, UK
Review Date: 19 February 2016 My Rating: out of 5

This review comes rather late as was lucky to catch an early screening of The Witch at the excellent Mayhem Horror festival in Nottingham last year. It was a real coup for the festival and the crowd were excited to be getting an early preview of the most talked about horror film of the year. The Witch premiered at the Sundance Festival last year to rave reviews.

The Witch follows the lives of a puritan family banished from their village, forging a new life in the New England wilderness. Eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is looking after her baby brother and during a game of Peekaboo he is taken into the woods and something terrible happens. As a result Thomasin comes under the scrutiny of her family who are already feeling the pressure of their self-imposed isolation. Whisperings of Devil worship and Witchcraft start to tear the family apart as paranoia and fear take hold.

So is The Witch as scary as the early reviews made out? I was surprised I didn’t find it particularly scary. Ultimately it suffers from the similar scare- hype as It Follows and The Babadook. This is not a bad thing just a note to take the marketing with a pinch of salt. The Witch is still one of the best and most unnerving horror films you’ll see all year.

The cast are all excellent. Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson make a formidable pair as parents Katherine and William. Their unquestioning dedication to their beliefs is completely believable. An early scene when they gaze at the awaiting woods with fixed grins on their faces is chilling. The Devil may be scary but Protestant extremists are even more terrifying. The score is excellent, eerie strings and vocals are striking and unnerving. The dialogue is authentic having been taken from diaries kept at the time (early 1600’s). As the family unravels the sense of claustrophobia is brilliant. The sense that something terrible is going to happen is twisted like a corkscrew and feels very intense. The film is written and directed by Robert Eggers

The Witch is my favourite horror of the last year so far. It may not be the scariest but I urge you to give this slow burn classic a chance. It’s refreshing to see a film like this getting made and getting so much publicity. It may not inspire a slew of creepy period drama copy-cats but The Witch is an atmospheric and disturbing fairy tale that will stay with you long after viewing and probably make you a little more suspicious of goats.

Unnerving and atmospheric period drama that chills.

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