Devil in the Dark: A review of The Witch

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One of the more disturbing horror films of recent years, The Witch is an excellent study in human behavior and fear. From the first frame to the last, it rattles your bones and chills your soul, leaving you feeling distinctly and downright scared.

Set in New England in 1630, The Witch follows a family after they are banished from their village and sent to live far away on the edge of an imposing wood, but when the youngest infant of the family disappears right in front of eldest sister Thomasin (Anna Taylor-Joy), distrust and paranoia begins to seep into the fragile minds of the family.

I must admit that I had high expectations for the film and even though I came away from it a little disappointed, mainly due to extended scenes of dialogue that left me a little bored, overall the experience was a gripping and visceral experience.

The New England setting is a fascinating and evocative location conjuring up images of settlers coming to the strange new land, bringing with them their beliefs of heaven and hell, which only torture them more. The Witch of the title is only a bit player in the disintegrating lives of the family as their own distrust is far more rotting and Lucifer himself is the scarier image.

As I’ve never really been a religious person, the idea of the devil in media has always been interesting to me, in particular, the encroaching atmosphere of the ever present satan is positively bone-chilling. Whilst I love a zombie film, I find that the presence of devil or devils in a film is an idea that sends shivers up and down my spine and in this a witch is presented very much as a worshipper of said devil instead of the key ‘villain’.

The Witch is glimpsed near the beginning in fleeting images of infant sacrifice and throughout there is a pervading sense of her presence. As the film continues, the mother of the family becomes distrustful of Thomasin and Black Phillip, one of their goats, seems to be watching them.

Without giving too much away, there is far more here than meets the eye. If you want bloody retribution in the finale, then you’re going to be disappointed as this is a film that borrows from pagan stories and folkloric tales, crafting its own delicate nightmare.

The cinematography is beautiful, capturing the tense fear and grim certainty whilst the music is gorgeously atmospheric and brilliantly eerie, I was surprised to see a track called ‘Isle of Wight’ which plays over the credits. Also, the actors are all great, from Ralph Ineson as the father and Kate Dickie as the mother, who build sharp and wild performances on building tension.

Overall, whilst I found some scenes to be a bit long, I understood that it was all in the development of tension and, in the end, I found it to be thoroughly creepy and masterfully made and Robert Eggers is definitely a talent to watch.

Rating: B

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