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Review: The Witch (TIFF 2015)

The Witch (TIFF 2015)
09.21.2015
9 10

PLOT: Expelled from their village, a family of  devoutly Christian settlers encounter supernatural forces in 17th century New England.

REVIEW: Not catching THE WITCH at Sundance this year proved to be one of my only true regrets of the festival, with the buzz coming out of Park City being that it was among one of the most impressive horror films in recent memory. I actually saw the first ten minutes at a screening, but my 102 degree fever coupled with the hallucinogenic visuals were simply too much for me. I figured THE WITCH was a film better saved for a time in which I was in possession of all my faculties. Luckily TIFF 2015 provided me with an opportunity to finally see it and weigh-in on what's already one of the year's most talked-about films. Sure enough, Robert Eggers incredible first effort is a stunning creation and a rare example of an elevated genre effort that works as both horror and art. Stanley Kubrick would be proud.

If you've ever read or seen Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE, the atmosphere we're sucked into here should be familiar. Taking place roughly around the time of the Salem Witch Trials, THE WITCH explores the very real danger of 17th century settler life and the culture of fear that dominated these devoutly Christian people, all through the experience of one family. Cast out by their village and forced to exist on their own, even without anything supernatural happening their lives would have been terrifying, with the prospect of the large family starving being a constant threat.

Enter young Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the vivacious teenage-daughter whose burgeoning sexuality is proving a distraction for her repressed brother, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw). After the family baby disappears literally in the blink of an eye, the seeds of suspicion are sown, and her younger twin siblings Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) inexplicably conspire against her, accusing her of being a witch – even if their own behavior seems suspect. And let's not even get started on the family goat, Black Peter...

Running a lean ninety minutes, THE WITCH is quite the visceral experience, with the horror kept to a minimum early-on, minus a few very upsetting, almost subliminal images. Propelled along by an extremely disturbing soundscape (reminiscent of Wendy Carlos' work on THE SHINING) and the muted cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, the film gradually works the audience into a state of sheer terror. The characterizations are excellent, with particularly good-work by Ralph Ineson as the severe but kind patriarch, and Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, who feels like a star in the making.

While distinctly artistic and not a full-on conventional genre work, horror buffs likely won't walk away from THE WITCH disappointed, with the tension of the last act and some incredibly disturbing imagery making this a much more upsetting experience than anything in the more extreme selections that were part of TIFF's Midnight Madness. This is horror in the same way that William Friedkin's THE EXORCIST or Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING was, in that it's a fully realized piece of art that, by virtue of how extraordinarily well-made it is, will likely whip audiences into a state of pandemonium.

With A24 putting this out in 2016, hopefully THE WITCH will get a solid theatrical release, as seeing this in a pitch-black theater on a massive screen with the sound cranked-up to eleven is the only way to truly appreciate director Robert Eggers' artistry. Surely he's a director that we'll be seeing a lot of in years to come as THE WITCH is going to put him on the map in a big way.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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