Tense tale casts such a scary spell
Period horrors are almost as rare as reboots – and remakes of the genre’s finest are common – so the 1630s-set The Witch makes for welcome, fresh viewing.
The plot follows New England parents William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their five children as they are struck by a series of mysterious events, culminating in the disappearance of newborn son Samuel.
Favouring slow-burn dread and tension over extreme gore and jump scares, The Witch – at times – is more like a family drama as the group quickly turn on each other as circumstances become more inexplicable.
Former production and costume designer Robert Eggers makes his writing and directing debut and he deserves immense kudos for remembering it’s OK to make a horror film scary.
Too often these days the genre is more interested in luring in young teenagers with sanitised chills and lazily drawn characters – not so The Witch.
Right from the start, when William is excommunicated from a Puritan Christian plantation due to the “crime” of “prideful conceit”, there’s an unsettling feeling that all is not well, and that even seemingly innocent acts will have consequences.
Comparisons have been made with cult classic Witchfinder General and the occult trappings, and prelude to the Salem witch trials, enable Eggers to create a land filled with mistrust – and based on some form of reality.
Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke uses earthy, desaturated colours, trees and greyer clouds than those found in a typical Scottish summer to recapture the 17th century and you’d never know Eggers hasn’t directed a full feature before.
He helms with an assured hand, and makes it abundantly clear he has a head filled with nightmarish visions befitting the genre. Animals are robbed of their innocence, tight framing is surrounded by creepy sounds suggesting enclosing terror and the one true bright colour allowed to stand out from the grim is blood red.
East Kilbride-born Dickie and Yorkshire’s Ineson (aka The Office’s Finchy) do a fine job as the put-upon parents trying to hold their disintegrating and under-fire family together.
However, it’s Anya Taylor-Joy (Thomasin) who really stands out in her cinematic bow – unless you count her role as “Uncredited Girl” in 2014’s Vampire Academy.
The former model has been front and centre for the movie’s marketing campaign and it’s easy to see why. Her pale skin, blonde hair, otherworldly feel and innocence soiled evoke memories of Sissy Spacek in Carrie.
The Witch may be too talky and sedate for the restless teen crowd, and there’s no doubting the lack of audience-pleasing shocks.
But it’s a taught, tension-ridden directorial debut that casts a scary, supernatural spell.
Dark turn Anya Taylor-Joy’s Thomasin is plagued by terror