Robert Eggers’s debut The Witch is a movie that works so perfectly yet I still struggle trying to grasp onto why it’s so loved. My theater experience watching The Witch was never the most pleasant and unfortunately on the spot I could not gather my thoughts properly, but upon a revisit I find myself all the more conflicted because what I remember having worked so well for me that one time never seemed to latch on. All I know for a fact is that there is another crowd of moviegoers who will certainly like, or even love The Witch given as it feels like a rather refreshing entry for the horror genre considering where it lies in recent years, and I won’t deny its good qualities. I’m not one of those people, and that’s what pains me because there’s so much to The Witch that I know should work for me.
What I do love so much about this film is how it represents the time period in which it was set. Whether it comes down to the basic details like the set pieces, the costumes, or the language in which the film is speaking, this is where The Witch is finding itself working so perfectly in one step. It all feels alive in a promising manner, because it actually gives a feeling that we, as the viewers, are actually watching something from said period in time happening in front of our eyes. If there’s something to be said, this is among the main reasons to which I really want to love The Witch more, but my main issues are not ones that I wish to talk about right on the spot.
From the dark cinematography, it is easy to feel as if Robert Eggers is more interested in creating something scary from tone rather than jump – adding more to what’s most commendable about The Witch. He knows how to keep a constant flow and a certain mood from even the simplest of shots, and add that in with the performances which come out from the family whom we are observing (Anya Taylor-Joy in particular being the standout from the bunch), and what comes out from The Witch is a feeling of hope, especially for horror fans because it draws back so much to what it is that we loved so much in the genre. Eggers’s direction is truly amongst some of the most admirable that I’ve witnessed all year round, and given the fact that this is a debut – that’s where I’m even more impressed.
It is also in the ideas that The Witch wants to tackle that make me carry this great respect for it as a whole. From covering religious conviction and its effect upon the human soul, we have a piece so isolated to the point that the moment in which we feel it upon ourselves, the whole mood that comes out becomes all the more uncomfortable. One can observe this family and think to themselves about how much this film manages to achieve in portraying the tension amidst each member, the effect it leaves upon oneself is haunting. It is a film so rooted in pure evil, to a manner it reminds me of what I love so much in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, I feel terrible.
As I end the last paragraph with “I feel terrible,” this is where such feelings come by. For how much I know The Witch works, it works so well to that point I just never connected with it. Whether it be from the heavy-handed symbolism, the pacing, or the ending (which left me feeling just as conflicted as it had always done on my first watch), so much about The Witch also seems to fall flat in equal measure. It’s made even worse though when I can never find myself able to pinpoint what it is about The Witch that never seems to work so well for me, because I recognize so much about it that easily could have been a perfect direction for the horror genre in recent years.
Let me put my personal feelings aside though, for I still recommend The Witch on the count that it works so well everywhere it should. From the performances to the atmosphere, what it tackles and how it evokes the time period in which it was set, everything about The Witch simply works. I feel terrible about how my first theater experience went because it never deserved the terrible audience which it had back then, for it is a brave direction to which I want to see more horror movies taking. I feel even more terrible about myself when I know that so much of it works to the point that I want to like it, but I’ll have to place myself in the camp where I can recognize its merits enough to call it excellent for what it is, but it just simply isn’t my cup of tea. In short, The Witch is another one of those films that I find myself admiring rather than loving.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via A24.
Directed by Robert Eggers
Screenplay by Robert Eggers
Produced by Rodrigo Teixeira, Daniel Bekerman, Lars Knudsen, Jodi Redmond, Jay Van Hoy
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Release Year: 2015
Running Time: 93 minutes