In the middle of a Halloween rewatch with my friend last week, I noticed that the best horror films have the most simplistic plots. A woman is paranoid that her neighbors are Satanists. A group of friends are being attacked in a cabin deep in the woods. The loglines are easy to come up with, yet their related movies are rich and memorable.
This holds true for The Witch.
The buzz has been going on and on about this particular flick ever since the unsettling trailer came out. I immediately knew that I needed to watch it, but I was simultaneously worried that it’d be all atmosphere and not much else. What happened instead was a pleasant albeit disturbing surprise.
It all begins with a religious Puritanical-era family leaving a village after the father, William (Ralph Ineson), disagrees with the leaders on how to worship. Their migration leads them many miles away to a seemingly secluded part of Northeast America.
It only takes a few months for their exile to turn sour, which is putting it lightly. A game of pee-ka-boo between older sister Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and newborn Samuel morphs into a game of hide-and-seek when she uncovers her eyes and finds her baby brother to be missing. Unlike a horror movie from earlier this year, the forest right at the edge of this family’s living situation is actually creepy. It is here that the poor babe is taken, sacrificed by a witch for her devilish purposes.
The decline that follows is rapid. Mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) turns on her own daughter with a continuous glare of judgment and suspicion. William fails his family by producing a pitiful crop and not being able to hunt to make up for it. Suddenly this open space they live in feels like a trap. Physically speaking, the woods don’t move closer, but the threat it holds does.
Lucifer’s gaze shifts from behind the tree branches into the eyes of Black Phillip, a wicked goat that dashes onto their land. His stay is permanent, and the alarmingly young twins Mercy and Jonas immediately take a liking to him. Damnation has visited this family personally.
It could be easy for someone to write off the Satanic symbolism in The Witch as stereotypical, but it never once comes across as cheap. The haunting score paired with bleak cinematography allows for the natural placement of such moments for it’s these instances that add vibrancy to the setting. The most colorful images are the most striking, and it’s their spare use that allows them to be easily seared onto your brain.
This is a story of temptation. There’s various levels of sin in this movie, and Robert Eggers effortlessly explores every single one. There were a few shots that lingered longer than necessary or that weren’t needed at all, but it’s still incredibly impressive for someone’s directorial debut.
If you’re looking to jump out of your seat in terror, this one isn’t for you. If you’re hoping to have discomfort overcome you in a darkened movie theater, then go and buy a ticket. Come on, The Witch is Satanic Temple-approved; viewing it can at least work as a conversation starter.
Don’t forget to follow me on social media!