An Intensely staring rabbit. A witch in the woods. One hell of a creepy goat. So is life in 17th century New England.
It’s a part of America which is home to endless folklore, tales of mystery, intrigue, witchcraft, and is drenched in history. The Witch is gorgeously detailed in its recreation of the period, from the isolated farmland setting, through to the hithers, thys and thous of the character’s dialect, it holds a strong sense of time and place which works to provide the perfect backdrop for the descent into bloodshed which unfolds.
It is in essence a blame game gone horribly awry. One where the line between real life and fantasy is blurred. What is reality to those who believe so firmly in the fantastical, after all? Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is at the centre of her family’s condemnation. After firstly her baby brother and then secondly her younger sibling Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) disappear in the woods whilst under her watch, her mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) and father William (Ralph Ineson) begin to suspect her of witchery, with their goat, the unexpectedly terrifying Black Phillip supposedly acting as a conduit for the Devil.
Yes, the Devil is real. Witches are real. This much the film seems to be clear on. Or at the least, they’re real to the characters of The Witch. The facts the film lays out point towards their existence, and the character’s convincingly unflinching belief in these hellish beings solidifies their claims of truth, yet the cynic in me wants to believe that it must all be in their imaginations. Would it not be narrow-minded of us to blindly believe in witchcraft as the film’s characters so easily do? Is that not what led to such terrible acts in the Salem witch trials that occurred in the exact same region and century? Innocent people were executed due to mass hysteria, as well as a fear of the Devil and his workers, with these horrors mirrored in The Witch as a result of the firm beliefs that the characters hold.
Still, despite what logic might dictate, director Robert Eggers does an excellent job of laying the foundations of the character’s religious system, and establishes the framing of the story beautifully over a slow burn opening. The setting, the characters and even witches themselves feel tangible. From the detailed production and costume design, to the gorgeous cinematography and the convincing performances, it’s easy to get sucked into the world of New England in the 1600s; though you might not want to go too far down that particular rabbit hole, as it just so happens to be a pretty dangerous place. A place where strangers are unforgiving, and family is even more so. The film admirably sticks to its guns and doesn’t go down the root of writing the events off solely as madness. If anything it defies expectations on this front, making the ending all the more unpredictable.
It’s not always scary in the way you might have come to expect from a modern horror film, but it is overbearingly tense, atmospheric, dark, and the performances are entirely fantastic – particularly those of Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Dickie – making for an alarmingly chilling experience. Yet in spite of the gore and witchcraft, there’s nothing more disturbing than Black Phillip. Trust me, he is one goat you won’t want to get on the wrong side of.
Rating (out of 5):