The Witch by S.W. Hannan
Dir: Robert Eggers
Screenplay: Robert Eggers
Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke
The kidnapping of a family’s infant boy, Samuel, incites a terrifying psychological fallout in The Witch (or The VVitch, if you prefer,) the most genuinely horrifying movie I’ve ever seen.
Samuel disappears, in the blink of an eye, during a game of peek-a-boo with the family’s eldest child, Thomasin (Anna Taylor-Joy.) A trail of shimmering bushes pointing to the forest is all Thomasin sees when she re-opens her eyes. She sets off after her brother but stops before the ominous wall of trees, shaded by a grey sky, which marks the threshold of the forest.
The family has no recourse to hunting parties, the church, or other amenities of civilization. They’ve been excommunicated from the colony for being too puritan for the puritans. “I cannot be judged by false Christians” says the father, William (Ralph Ineson,) in the opening scene of the picture. Before a court other puritans dressed in somber colors, wide hats, and stoic glares, he happily accepts his family’s expulsion from the colony. “I would be glad on it,” he says.
The family’s faith is essential to the success of the picture’s drama and horror. It provides the characters with a looming, dispassionate standard of conduct to fail against as the chaos of the witch seeps into their lives. All of the dialogue centers around the dour contextualization of their actions through the Bible. “And [I have] broken every one of thy commandments in thought…I know I deserve more shame and misery in this life and everlasting hellfire,” prays Thomasin just before her brother’s disappearance. When the mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie (Lysa Arryn from Game of Thrones,)) falls into despair over their poor living conditions, William tells her that god “hath taken us into a very low condition to humble us and to show us more of his grace.”
The thematic consequence of this strict faith is that the family is held up to godly judgement even as evil tears them down, and without anyone or anything else to help. The silence of god and the deafening scream of evil is the horror of The Witch.
To visually achieve this horror, the movie does not employ jump-scares, gore (not much anyway,) or flashy effects to generate this horror. Rather, it comes from deliberate, Hitchcockian camerawork, which scares the viewer to check the edges of the frame for spectres and frights; it comes from the piercing soundtrack, at times heavily inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; and it comes from the psychological and emotional devastation of inflicted onto the family by the witch.
Samuel’s capture so disturbs the family that they turn on themselves, each member exposing the failings of others: William can’t hunt or grow crops, Katherine can’t trust her family, Thomasin and Caleb lie, the twins are always in the way and refuse to listen to anyone, and, despite their endless reverence for god, everyone is a horrible sinner all the time. Shamed by their faith even on a good day, the influence of the witch is the final straw atop the family’s heavy faith. They become increasingly vicious toward each other. They accuse each other of sins, of lies, and of evil intent. Their discord grows as they reach out for control and salvation only to find evil reaching back in the form of chaos.
Caught in the middle is Thomasin (no doubt the word ‘sin’ deliberately appears in her name,) who is the movie’s most likely candidate for protagonist. She’s caught between her father’s imposed piety and the implication that she is responsible for Samuel’s disappearance. Later she is linked to other supernatural horrors, which does not help her situation. While the family accuses each other of domestic cruelties, Thomasin is accused of being a witch, a real and severe accusation at the time. She wants to please her father and her mother, and help hold the family together. But, against the increasing discord of her family, is it more reasonable to hold onto her faith and family, or succumb to the accusation, and become the witch?
I highly suggest you find out.