The Witch was one of the most talked-about movies of 2016 in my circle of horror fans, but it took me ages to finally watch it. Now that I have, I know exactly why everyone was talking about it.
The Witch depicts the story of a Puritan family in 17th century New England. They traveled to America from England, and then were cast out of their small colony’s church because of the father’s pride. They leave the settlement and venture out into the woods to build themselves a farm and a new life, worshiping peacefully as a family.
The Witch lets you know very quickly what kind of horror film it is – one that aims to unsettle and disturb viewers rather than shock with jump scares or special effects. And The Witch is really, really good at unsettling its audience.
Part of that is due to just how immersive of an experience the movie is. Along with the painstaking amount of research and attention-to-detail that obviously went into creating the period setting, and how well-crafted the scenes and the filming were, the actors were absolutely incredible. Especially the main character, Thomasin, and her younger brother Caleb. Their portrayals of their characters – children growing up in a Puritan home, nearing adulthood and questioning themselves, their religion, and their parents – really sold the film for me, especially in the context of the rest of the plot and the looming threat of witchcraft.
Another thing about this movie, I started writing this review immediately after finishing the film, but stopped partway through. When I came back to finish this review today, I ended up deleting or changing pretty much everything I’d written. I think that’s a good way to describe the impression this film gives you. It doesn’t really end with the movie. The story sticks with you. In some ways this is a good thing – the scenes make an impact. In other ways, maybe not so much.
I mentioned the clearly evident amount of research that went into making this movie as a strength earlier, but I think it’s also one of the film’s downfalls. Because of the amount of research that went into creating the film’s plot, there’s a lot of elements that fly by unnoticed for viewers who aren’t familiar with 17th century New England witch folklore – which, presumably, is most of us.
After watching The Witch, I found myself doing a lot of research – both of the movie itself by looking up interviews with the director Robert Eggars, but also of whatever folklore I could find. After a while, some of the scenes started making horrifying sense in a way they didn’t when I was watching the film.
So the many layers of the story and the clear influences from American history and folktales are exactly what make this movie so great. But they also make the movie somewhat inaccessible, unless you take the time to put in that extra effort. Which not everyone wants from a movie. The divisive reviews for The Witch indicate as much.
Overall: 9/10. I wavered on whether to rate this as 8 or 9, but ultimately decided on 9 just because I want everyone who is a horror fan to watch this movie. I’m still not sure if I enjoyed it, but I don’t think this movie is one that’s meant to be enjoyed. And regardless of whether you decide you love it or hate it by the end, I think The Witch is such a different horror movie experience from any other film I’ve seen, that it is a must-see.
This film is incredibly well-crafted, well-researched, and well-acted. It’s a horrifying movie in that it unsettles and genuinely disturbs. It’s like no other horror movie you’ve seen. Put it on your watch list.