The Witch: Family ties unravel amidst rising paranoia
The Witch, while slow moving, is a lovingly and carefully crafted 1600’s period psychological horror film. The film depicts the events that unfold after a Puritan family are banished from their town and are forced to fend for themselves living off their small farm surrounded by foreboding woodlands.
That’s the gist. My own thoughts were more along the lines of Hansel, Gretel, and Red Riding Hood encounter a nasty presence in the woods, and this film tells the story of the outcome of that encounter. That may sound smarmy and a little dismissive, but the fact is this film clearly takes its premise from a number of different folklore sources. Children lost in the woods, a witch’s house located remotely within such woods. Even a character very obviously wearing a red cape a la the aforementioned Ms Red Riding Hood.
The family’s woes begin when the youngest child, an infant, goes missing, and things descend from there as the family struggles to put food on the table, as well as dealing with rising paranoia amongst family members as to who is to blame for their present predicament. The true horror of the film lies not with the actions of the witch, or of Black Phillip (don’t ask, just watch it), but rather the descent of the family and their eventual unravelling as a family unit.
As mentioned, the film moves among slowly, sometimes frustratingly so, but the key moments are well worth hanging in there for. This is a well crafted film – someone obviously cared very much about its final look and feel, and the actors do a wonderful job dealing with some difficult scenes as well as unfamiliar language. The young cast, in particular the two eldest children, are very well played.
Anya Taylor-Joy is wonderful as the eldest daughter Thomasin, accused by her younger siblings of being a witch after the second eldest child, Caleb, played by young actor Harvey Scrimshaw, falls foul of witchcraft whilst seeking food in the woods.The God-fearing father, William, played by Ralph Ineson, is, along with Thomasin, the central character in the film and father and daughter play off each other very well, especially towards the end of the film when the father’s inclination is to accept more the possibility of supernatural goings-on rather than his own children’s innocence.
Anna Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw play sister and brother Thomasin and Caleb in ‘The Witch’
A special mention to Harvey Scrimshaw, who for the most part underplays the character of Caleb, but in a way that adds immensely to the overall tension of the film. His chemistry with Taylor-Joy adds greatly to what are quite awkward scenes together (I say awkward due to the ever-so-subtle hints of potential incest between the two). He almost steals the movie away from the more adult actors here, but his character drifts away in the final third of the film (no spoilers here sorry).
I will admit to checking my watch a couple of times, it is a bit of a chore to sit through, but the ending is a very satisfying one, and once Black Phillip kicks off, the story throws itself toward the finish line with a very memorable final act.
Not to everyone’s taste, The Witch is unnerving in its depiction of the mental disintegration of a family unit, and makes an interesting addition to traditional folklore tales.
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