“…a great return to form for the horror genre.”
Yesterday I saw one of my highly anticipated movies, The Witch, and I was not disappointed. For those who don’t know, The Witch is a film that takes place in 1630 New England and it centres around a family that is plagued with misfortune after their newborn son disappears while being watched by his older sister. I know that plot synopsis is fairly weak, but I’m trying to be as vague as possible, not to spoil anything. The Witch is a horror movie, not like the other horror movies that are released seemingly every week that rely on jump scares, but instead a movie that is terrifying and deeply unsettling to watch. If you like horror movies, I would recommend you go and give it a shot because I feel it is a breath of fresh air amongst the often tired “horror movies” that are released frequently.
In this review I’m not going to talk about the story presented in the film because, as I said before, I don’t want to spoil anything. I will however talk about how this movie achieved it’s goal of being terrifying. First and foremost, the setting of the movie. Now I don’t know about anyone else, but the past scares me. Especially when it comes to 17th century, where people were literally being burned because they were a little different and therefore believed to be a witch. So when the movie opens up, and you see the beautiful and period-correct set and costume design you are, or at least I was, immediately met with a sense of discomfort. Honestly, this movie reminded me of The Village (which is a good thing, I actually like The Village) with how well it portrayed its characters and setting. Of course, the fantastic acting also accentuated that feeling, almost as if we were looking through a window into the past instead of watching actors on a screen.
Now from here on out, I’m going to discuss exactly why I found the movie scary. Don’t worry, as I said earlier I’m not discussing plot points but instead I will be discussing exactly how the movie added to the tension I was already feeling. Now as I mentioned before, this movie does not rely on jump scares in the traditional sense. Sure, there were a few times when something quickly happened on screen that was accompanied by a loud noise and it made me practically jump out of my skin, but it didn’t feel cheap, if that makes sense. The Witch instead relies on making you feel uneasy and constantly on edge. It does this in a few different ways which I will discuss. First of all, the lighting in the movie. Now I’m not sure exactly how the movie was made (so I’m partially talking out of my ass) but it sure as hell looks like only natural light was used for filming. Now some of you may know of The Revenant which famously only used natural light for shooting, but I feel that this movie used it to an extent that elevated the feeling the rest of the movie was building up. Again, I’m not sure if the movie actually used only natural light, but if it didn’t then they did one hell of a job emulating what natural light would look like. Now when I say that the use of natural lighting elevated the feeling of the movie, I simply mean that the look of the film is so real, and in some scenes so beautiful, that it adds to what I said earlier about the movie being more like a window to the past. Not only did the lighting make New England look constantly gloomy to match the tone of the film, but there were a couple of scenes indoors that were lit by candles which added beautiful contrast and harsh shadows to the characters faces that were just beautiful to look at.
Another way the film maintained its tension was through the use of editing. there is one scene in particular that is pretty fucked up, and instead of keeping the camera trained on the action you get a shot that lasts a couple of seconds, then a cut to black, then another shot that lasts a couple of seconds, rinse and repeat. As soon as this happened in the film, I fell in love with the technique. I think it is the fact that the editing conveys there is a passage of time with the cut to black, but it doesn’t let you see everything which leaves some mystery and keeps you on edge. And complementing the fantastic editing was a terrific soundtrack. The use of shrill noises and chanting again added to the mystery and tension of many scenes. The only problem I have with the movie is it was a little hard to understand the characters at times. The mix of thick accents and period-correct speaking really made for a perfect storm of marble mouth. I feel that I got the gist of what the characters were saying in each scene, but this movie would really benefit from some subtitles.
All in all I really loved The Witch and thought it was a great return to form for the horror genre. It kept my interest (as well as my heart beating out of my chest) for its entirety, and I am excited to see what writer/director Robert Eggers has in store next.
I give The Witch a B (4/5)