Review: ‘The Witch’ is a Slow and Satisfying Burn

The Witch is not what you’d expect from its trailer. And if you dared to watch it when it came out I hope you don’t remember much about it, otherwise the most intense moments in the film will be spoiled for you.

Today started in Sitges (a beach town near Barcelona, Spain) the 48th International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, one of the most recognized film festivals worldwide. Specialized in sci-fi, horror and fantasy, it’s comparable to last week’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, only the latter is merely 10 years-old.

The biggest feature to kick start this year’s Sitges Film Festival was The Witch and in hindsight, I realize that I went in with the wrong expectations. I’d read several headlines describing The Witch trailer as “extremely scary” and even if I don’t tend to watch trailers for movies I’m interested in, that little piece of information already set a bar. All the hype around it from other festivals didn’t help matters either.

The Witch

Truth be told, I really enjoyed The Witch despite the fact that it’s not the film I was expecting to see. It’s director and screenwriter Robert Eggers‘ debut feature film and he must be commended for the amount of work that went into making this movie.

First of all, the screenplay is phenomenal, going by the tagline “A New-England Folktale” you can definitely count on the dialogue being based on old 1600s texts found during an obviously very extensive research. In this sense, the whole cast excel at delivering their lines, to the point where their very prominent accent mixed with old English can be unintelligible. I was grateful about the subtitles we had on screen even though all the actors, including the kids, are on point and the plot can be easily followed along from their expressions and actions. Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Ineson stand out with the best performances along with the most developed and engaging characters.

The story in itself is an understated push and pull between what’s imposed or presented as a fact and what’s our nature as individuals. It uses religion and folklore believes in juxtaposition in such a way that makes the viewer question everything that happens on screen from a certain point.

The Witch

In terms of the music, from the beginning it grabs the audience’s attention with its strident notes, reminiscent of the Under the Skin soundtrack at times. It’s wisely used in anticipation between shots and to accentuate the high tension in some of the scenes. The production and costume design are also worth mentioning because they bring so much to creating a 1630s New England outskirts atmosphere, with the gray and brown tones in the clothing, the little hay and wood houses near the woods…

But the best aspect of The Witch is the cinematography. What separates this film from an old time-y story with a few contemporary horror-type jump scares is the way every shot is calculated meticulously along with the slow pacing. In a way, it feels like it breathes, growing organically from its first scene to the last, taking time to pause a few times along the way, letting the viewer digest it. Until it climaxes with a satisfying fist on the table before letting you go gently at the very end.

All in all, I wouldn’t tag this film as horror per se, since it ends up being more daunting than scary.


 

The Witch

Directed and written by Robert Eggers.
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin; Ralph Ineson as William; Kate Dickie as Katherine; Harvey Scrimshaw as Caleb; Lucas Dawson as Jonas; Ellie Grainger as Mercy.
Music by: Mark Korven.
Director of Photography: Jarin Blaschke.

US Wide Release: February 26, 2016.

 

Elisabeth S. Contreras
Elisabeth S. Contreras
Film enthusiast and sharer of words. Don't underestimate a woman with an opinion.

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