The Witch

Directed By: Robert Eggers

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, and Lucas Dawson

Having the benefit of having reviewed hundreds and hundreds of films, I generally can size up a film in its first fifteen minutes or so.  My ego lets me think I can do it in only five minutes sometimes.  In the case of Robert Eggers's The Witch, I thought I had it pegged after the first few moments.  I thought it was going to be a dry, fright-less affair.  In this rare case, I was wrong.  I was dead wrong.  The opening act by our killer the witch is a bit slow at first but delivers a bigger payoff than I could have anticipated.  With this in mind, The Witch might just be the start of another good year in the horror genre in the wake of last year's breakouts It Follows and Crimson Peak.

Growing up on a small, impoverished farm in the woods with her family, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) learns a hard lesson.  There's a witch (Bathsheba Garnett) in the woods, and she has nothing but ill will for the family.  While Thomasin is playing an old school version of peek-a-boo with her infant sibling, the baby disappears in the blink of an eye.  Her father William (Ralph Ineson) and her mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) don't blame her.  Her little siblings Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) do, however.  It certainly doesn't help that her father is taking her younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) out into the woods to search for food, leaving her mother worried sick.  Regardless of her father's mistake, Thomasin increasingly becomes the focus of the family as the witch commits one vile act after another.

Grim and gory, The Witch is not what I expected and really sets a nice tone for the horror genre this year (if you forget The Forest ever happened as I did in never even writing about this cinematic abomination).  Having more of an independent vibe, there's an old school style underlying this period horror piece.  It's fueled by some of the fundamental creative decisions made by director Robert Eggers.  You can see it in the grainy, grayish cinematography that creates a bleak setting.  You can hear it in the turbulent score powered by strings and percussive instruments.  You can feel it in the animalistic violence that plays out time and time again throughout the movie.  Yes, The Witch is an old school horror movie with style that delivers the frights.

The interesting thing about the cast is that the child actors steal the limelight from the adults on screen.  For her part as Thomasin, Anya Taylor-Joy gives us an innocent adolescent at first.  She ultimately transitions her character into a haunted young woman scarred by the jarring traumas that take place throughout the film.  For his part as Caleb, Harvey Scrimshaw delivers a vibrant performance marked by earnestness.  It's a genuine performance that resonates.  Rounding out the younger cast members, Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson deliver plenty of sharp comic relief as Mercy and Jonas respectively.  Meanwhile, Ralph Ineson huffs and puffs without quite blowing the house down in a somewhat hollow performance as the family patriarch William.  Kate Dickie spends her time nagging, nagging, and nagging some more in a tedious, laborious take on family matriarch Katherine.  The parents serve up anything but multi-dimensional characters.

The Witch
gets a 0.03% rating.  If you're a horror lover, grab some wine coolers and sit back to enjoy this one.