The Witch ★★★★★

The Witch, following a family upon their move into the wilderness of 1630s New England, is the debut feature film from director Robert Eggers who embeds the project with an essence of horror not often seen. While many audiences are busy looking for, or even lazily just waiting for, big jumps and stingers for their scares like most modern movies of the genre, they are missing the creepy details that truly push a slow burn like this film into horror. It's so realistically done that you worry that it shouldn't be happening, and are likewise worried of the consequences for the family.

The ensemble cast is first and foremost in bringing this story to life. The acting is just incredible. You can see heavy breath leaving the body. You can see the confusion in their eyes. You can see evil determination and quiet despair. Each actor has a moment of triumph where their talent alone is on display, and these scenes hit like a goat to the gut. What makes it even more impressive is that more than half of the main cast is made up of child actors that pull these feats from who knows where. They are eerily effective in a way that, at one point, I questioned whether one of the children was actually an adult acting through motion capture. It was not the case. The acting is just that intense and believable.

Other points and aspects of the film also make you question everything you're seeing. Has any of this story been real? Is what is happening in this story being imagined? There's a sense of ambiguity that, instead of making things more comfortable because it's probably just an old-timey urban legend, actually makes you more hesitant to step further into darkness because it could very well be real. While the horrific voices help make up a vivid and powerful score by Mark Korven, could these chants actually be coming from nearby evil as well? The forest, already naturally dangerous, is left open to become a supernatural place of folklore where any animal you encounter could be something more and the tall trees creep in close to overcome you.

It's a masterful choice to shoot this film in more of a full frame aspect ration, which makes its presentation alone feel old and classic, purposefully dated to a time long since experienced. At the same time, it subconsciously makes the film about a tight-knit family go completely claustrophobic and uncomfortable, even when outdoors. It's isolating. The camera is used like a lullaby, going back and forth between sweeps across plains and utter stillness until it trances you into the unknown. There is depth and uneasiness in every frame, and bewilderment after every turn. Takes that last longer than expected leave you to breathe during these down times, but there really is no downtime when you're numbed into a sense of wonder.

All of this culminates into a film that floats into a state of euphoria, capturing an emotion that you may not have known was even there before. It's a witch film unlike any other, taken seriously and realistically, but with a climate of dread. It's a slice of life film, really, albeit a slice of an alternative life. As familiar in storybooks as it might be today, these were the absolute thoughts and stories passed around by those who lived during the time, the stories that many thought to be real. The Witch is the definition of the American witch mythology, portrayed in its purest state of horrific enchantment.


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Ranked: A24
Ranked: 2016

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