The particular brand of puritanical / Satanical horror that The Witch is a part of has never been on my wavelength – it’s why I never got around to watching even a film as iconic as, say, The Exorcist. I’ve made clear my opinion of horror as an overall genre before, and while there will always be exceptions to my distaste for the genre, things haven’t changed.
So, in watching The Witch, I was struck with an appreciation for the technical mastery, the absolute confidence displayed in Robert Eggers’ debut film, while still finding the film entirely distasteful.
The Witch tells the story of a Puritanical family, exiled from the safety of a plantation, who encounter all manner of supernatural horrors in their new house by the forest. Elder daughter Thomasin (the captivating Anya Taylor-Joy) is witness to the disappearance of two of her younger siblings, and it’s quickly clear that there’s something ominous going on.
This film feels wholly authentic, with natural lighting; the sets, the costumes, the accents, the language, all work to transport you to a specific time and place when witchery was a real concern. The technical achievement that Eggers and company utilize in creating this film is instantly obvious. There’s no reliance on any one trick or place that Eggers goes to for scares; instead, every scare is a different one; he knows exactly how much, or how little, he needs to show to convince us that something is grotesque and awful, or beautiful and dangerous.
The film concludes with a devil’s bargain so grim and shocking that it’s almost unforgettable; the way a goat seems to seamlessly turn into a man in one moment on screen, the shocking sound effects of a witch’s coven, and the concluding image of a women, freed from the shackles of puritanical society, create as striking an image to end on as any in recent memory. To be clear, this is no morality play – this is a folk tale true to the mold of the Brothers Grimm at their most darkly twisted.
The fact that Robert Eggers wrote and directed a debut film this confident and well-made has to be one of the most invigorating aspects of watching this; here’s a fresh young voice who could do anything with his career. For my own sake, I hope he eventually transitions to other genres that are more palatable to my taste, but if he sticks with horror movies of this caliber, I certainly won’t be complaining.