Rewind Review – The Witch (2016)


The “VVitch”: A New-England Folktale. Here’s a period psychological thriller that breeds paranoia in its audience from the opening sequences and doesn’t let up until the credits roll.

When my theatre got this show earlier in the year, I knew what it was supposed to be, but a lot of people that walked in expecting a run-of-the-mill horror flick were disappointed—even complained about it, as they were walking out. While a lot of the horror conventions hold in this one, I wouldn’t classify it as such; it’s a period piece about a frontier family in the 1630s that just so happens to have a supernatural element. What a film like Blackfish did for marine animal rights, this film did for historical inaccuracies: it brought to light the long-assumed, unfounded “gaieties” taught about these “Pilgrims” in grade school, and shows us what, I think, is the first real, raw look at frontier life as it was. Throughout the film, my brother was all, “I’d love living back then and playing cowboy!”

Nope—I’ll take our Age of Ease any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

The score in this was on-point. Much like my other favorite “horror” film of all time, The Babadook, the music adds to the sense of paranoia and Grim Reaper dread that the characters feel, without pulling the audience out of the setting. While a tad overdone at times (I was constantly thumbing the volume up and down in some scenes), the music and haunting chants grounded me even more in the story.

I was left with more questions than I had answers for, which is what any good psychological thriller should do for its audience. This is a modern-day The Exorcist; the filmmakers didn’t rely on the exhausted “jump scare”, but, instead, stuck us in a colonial petri dish—strand family in isolated woods, sit back, watch what happens. Speaking of which… The actors portraying the remote frontier family in this film gave excellent performances, without losing their credibility as “historical characters”. There’s a thin line that is much-too-often blurred with “historical” dramas, where the star—or stars—playing the lead role(s) are stripped of their significance, reverting to that limelight portrayal. Those involved in the making of this film weren’t concerned with an Oscar nom, or making something profound, they just wanted to tell the story as accurately as their sources made the time-period out to be.

The Witch left me with that same sense of fear and dread walking out as it did when (as in the trailer—no spoilers) the main conflict initially presents itself. It’s that gut feeling that there’s to be a perpetuation of the underlying “evil” of this movie—Man preying on Man—which is both gratifying and horrifying. The filmmakers both attempt to recreate pioneer life and hold a mirror to today’s world, and they succeed in both respects. I’m grateful to see an artsy horror film that tries to be more than its scares.

Overall, I’d give Robert Eggers’s The Witch a ‘Risk Assessment of ****/*. This film’s worth-seeing, both for film buffs who can appreciate its sullen nature, but also for Average Joe movie-goers who enjoy a good thrill.

Written by Evan Kern

Just a twenty-something filmie trudging through adulthood. Taking it day by day, movie by movie. Words are life...

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