Saturday, October 15, 2016

Film Review: The Witch (2015)

The Witch (Review)
United States/Canada/2015
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Instant
Amazon Prime: Yes
Netflix Streaming: No
*A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review

"If you're a fan of slow-burn horror movies, like those from Ty West, I think you'll enjoy this one."

Banished from their plantation, a Puritan family finds refuge in a secluded forest, where they are quickly tested by forces of witchcraft and black magic...

The Witch isn't your everyday horror film. It's a period piece set in 1630s New England. Therefore, the characters speak Ol' English. It can be hard to understand, especially when the characters speak quickly, but it does feel authentic. It helps develop the atmosphere of the film. The plot follows this small family in their farm in the secluded forest. To their dismay, they find nothing but bad luck. First, a baby vanishes into thin air – a wolf took it, they say, but we know better. The family begins to drift away from each other, especially with the burden of the blame being placed on young Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). Soon, talk of witchcraft poisons the family... It's a fairly simple plot with little to spoil, but it's effective and interesting. The ending was good, too.

The Witch isn't a film for everyone. The setting is fantastic, a great change of pace for the genre, but it does create a hindrance for the casual viewer. For those who are unfamiliar with Ol' English, you might find yourself working quite a bit to understand the dialogue in this film. I was caught off guard in the beginning, but I caught on before the end of the first act. This isn't a jump-scare horror film, either. In fact, I think there might have been one or two jump-scares – and those might not even qualify by most standards. Instead, The Witch opts for an atmospheric approach. It uses a slow-burn pace and a disturbing plot to create a sense of dread. Fortunately, it achieves this feat throughout the film.

The Witch isn't perfect, though. Although the slow-burn pace is effective, there are times where the pace is dreadfully slow – and not in a good way. The suspense often dwindles due to the unnecessarily long scenes of nothing. Yes, the scenes of the landscape and such often work in creating the world, but when they are used too often, such as in this film, they create nothing but boredom. Like many other independent horror films, The Witch tends to focus a bit too much on the environment shots and useless close-ups. It's not as bad as films like Anguish, but it's still a problem. It's filler, that's all it really is. It's also a bit heavy-handed. There isn't really a sense of mystery because it reveals its hand towards the beginning. It's not exactly a flaw, but it doesn't help much either.

The acting was great, though. Anya Taylor-Joy is wonderful as the leading lady. Ralph Ineson is also great as the leading man. The cast blends with the world seamlessly. The film is shot beautifully, too. Again, it almost feels like it's full of itself, though. We get it: the cinematography is great. We don't need ten minutes of blank shots. I have no complaints for the music – I loved the soundtrack. The film was written and directed by Robert Eggers. Eggers crafts a magnificent world while blending horror and drama to create a riveting plot. However, his direction is hindered by the pacing issues and an occasionally uneventful plot. Still, I look forward to Eggers next film.

Overall, The Witch is a very good movie. It's an atmospheric, spooky, and, most importantly, entertaining horror film. I'm not going to say it's the scariest movie in years, like many other review outlets, but I will say: it was a splendid experience. If you're a fan of slow-burn horror movies, like those from Ty West, I think you'll enjoy this one. Keep the language differences in mind, though.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood, nudity.

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