- RatedM18 /GenreHorror
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'The Witch' is the stuff of nightmares.
Not the kind that scares you outright, but one that slowly sears into your mind, leaving an indelible mark in your psyche.
Production designer-turned-director Robert Eggers mined fairy and folk tales, prayer manuals and historical journals to give us one of the most unnerving distinctive horrors we’ve ever seen.
Set in colonial New England circa 1630, ‘The Witch’ follows a family into self-imposed exile on the edge of an imposing forest.
When their newborn son mysteriously vanishes from the farm, suspicions turn towards teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy).
The girl is blamed again when her brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) goes missing and then comes back changed.
The father (Ralph Ineson) prays, while the mother (Kate Dickie) breaks down in despair, leaving their youngest twin children to behave erratically in the company of the farm’s black goat.
Is witchcraft at work? Or is something else feeding the family’s fears?
‘The Witch’ is unlike your usual horror; it comes hot on the heels of other cerebral horrors such as ‘It Follows’, ‘Babadook’ and ‘Crimson Peak’.
Taylor-Joy gives a breakthrough performance as a young girl who never seems to fit in with her brood.
On the cusp of puberty, Thomasin’s budding sexuality is both seen as temptation and threat, while her adolescent defiance is strangely familiar.
Ineson and Dickie faithfully sold their roles as parents beset by grief, driven to desperation and then descended into madness.
‘The Witch’ wrings terror from the anxieties of the displaced family. It taps on the religiosity and superstition of the era; expounding on the idea that when faith is too ingrained within, every tragedy and slight can be read as unearthly.
This is the essence of ‘The Witch’, where the natural and the supernatural are impossible to separate.
The movie also draws upon modern horror tropes and putting them in an unfamiliar setting.
He also stirs classical fairy-tale elements – the red riding hood, poisoned apples, wicked witches – together with his faithful recreation of New England into his cauldron.
All these are then seasoned with a liberal sprinkling of Mark Korven’s disquieting score that will leave you squirming in your seat.
What makes ‘The Witch’ stands out from its peers, is the film’s commitment to restrain itself.
An austere project both in tone and style, Eggers’ sure-handed debut earns your goosebumps not through big shocks and overt gore, but by atmosphere and timing.
It’s what we don’t see that’s the most frightening, as we feel the terror settling in on the family.
Eggers deliberately keeps things ambiguous, putting the onus on the viewer to decide whether it is the supernatural or family dysfunction that is unravelling here.
The witch has always had a contentious existence in pop-culture, straying from its evil origins especially as the Disney-fied old-crone-with-the-crooked nose-in-the-pointy-hat or teen witches learning to cope with their powers in high school, but ‘The Witch’ makes witches frightening again.
‘The Witch’ opens 5 May 2016