Sharp Reviews: ‘The Witch’

The woods contain horrors – and wonders. Embrace them to live deliciously.

Happy Spooktober, dear reader! In the spirit of October and celebrating all things spooky, I’ve decided to forego the Vogue’s offering this week to review what is, in my opinion, a modern spooky classic.

The Witch is a deeply disturbing tour de force of acting, directing and writing. It easily earns its label as a horror movie, but it stands as distinct from the horror genre. There is little in the way of loud-noise jump scares, which are so common today. Instead, The Witch gets under your skin with its mood and disturbing imagery and then slowly turns up the tension.

The Witch relies largely on the bleak and authentically dire situation that a family finds itself in, making it a sort of social horror movie. Although, there is a sequence early on that diverges from this, which is truly, brutally horrific. As I alluded to earlier, it’s not terrifying in the the traditional glitzy, highly scripted, jump-scare way that is so commonplace in the genre today. Instead, this sequence – and the movie by and large – presents itself so clearly and realistically that it’s hard not to be disturbed. It’s easy for realistically depicted horror to go too far and numb the audience, but luckily, The Witch uses the shock factor sparingly and incredibly effectively. The film doesn’t often go for a straight scare but when it does, it does it well.

The Witch is set in early 17th century New England. It centers on a Puritan family that has been exiled from the colony for – depending on who you ask – either the sin of pride or religious differences. Regardless, the family is forced to live in the woods entirely on their own, which they are glad to do. Unfortunately, the godly life is cut short when one of the children is kidnapped by the witch of the wood. The plot is a slow burn, but by the end it manages to be touching, pitiful and horrifying all while intelligently navigating themes of grief, family, masculinity, femininity and puberty.

The main criticism that I can level at The Witch – and this is something that I myself love – is that it is rather inaccessible to a casual viewer. The characters speak in 17th century English; they sound more like Shakespeare than us. Luckily, the actors are incredible and deliver the lines as perfectly as you could hope, making the dialogue easier to comprehend. However, it can still be an obstacle to enjoyment for those unwilling to indulge in the dialogue. I appreciate that it adds another layer of authenticity and artistry to the film, but I can easily see how many would find it obnoxious.

Visually, The Witch does an impressive amount with a muted colour scheme. It manages to effectively underscore the repression and tension the characters feel without distracting from the onscreen activity.

The Witch isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s heavy and frightening. It stays with you for days after you’ve seen it. The dialogue and plot are imposing and, to the casual viewer, unwieldy. But if you’re willing to go in and take it seriously, The Witch is an experience like no other.

The Witch is on Netflix for those willing to brave the woods.

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