New England in the 1630s: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life with five children, homesteading on the edge of an impassable wilderness. When their newborn son vanishes and crops fail, the family turns on one another. Beyond their worst fears, a supernatural evil lurks in the nearby wood.
ActorsStarring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Lucas Dawson, Ellie Grainger
The Witch is the directorial debut of Robert Eggers, an American screenwriter. Set in 17th Century New England (actually shot in Canada for tax reasons), the film tells the tale of William and his family: wife Katherine, teenage daughter Thomasin, son Caleb, two young twins and one baby. The family are banished from their community for a someway vaguely defined crime of biblical interpretation by William, a proud man who is utterly sure of his religious beliefs and will not compromise them in order to fit in as demanded. The family move a day’s ride away to a location by a brook on the edge of some forbidding woods, and build a farmhouse and shelter for their goats. Life is hard in such times, all the more when the family is as isolated as it is.
Nonetheless, the little group seem to be just about eking out a living, hoping that their corn crop will support them. Food is scarce, and William feels he needs to supplement their diet by trapping rabbits in the woods, which are taboo due to rumoured presence of witches. Trouble befalls them when the baby goes missing in mysterious circumstances, and the family turns in on itself as they seek to explain this calamity. Is there indeed a witch in the woods, or is the problem closer to home? The twins claim to be able to communicate with the family’s black goat (which is presumably possessed), and Thomasin falls under suspicion of witchcraft. Things get worse as further misfortune befalls the family, but is the problem really due to the devil, or is it a case of paranoia and madness?
The Witch is well directed and is unsettling, gradually building tension rather than going for overt Hollywood cliché shock moments. It is shot in a muted colour palate that reinforces the sense of gloom and foreboding. The original all-acoustic soundtrack by Mark Korven is excellent, with jarring noises and disturbing melodies, with much use of cello and a medieval instrument called a nyckelharpa. The acting, particularly from Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, is convincing, and the editing is tight, the movie not outstaying its welcome at a 96 minute running time. There are inevitable echoes of “The Crucible” and perhaps a passing nod to The Wicker Man in one scene involving a hare, but the script is original and ploughs its own furrow. Even at the end the resolution can be viewed in more than one way, and it really captures the monotony and hardship of life that can inspire religious paranoia. What girl in such dire circumstances would not be tempted by the promise of “living life deliciously’ and “seeing the world” as the devil seems to promise?