Review 52: The Witch (2016)
The Witch was barely on my radar until I noticed that it had an 88% Critic Score on Rotten Tomatoes. After checking to see how R-rated it is, my daughter and I ventured out to the theater to see what all the hype was about.
The Witch follows a family in 1630’s New England as they are banished from their village and settle their own farm in the middle of nowhere. William (Ralph Ineson) and his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their children Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), Mercy (Ellie Grainger), and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) are pitted against misfortune that is presumed to be witchcraft, black magic, or possession.
The performances are solid and believable. Even if their accents sometimes make it hard to understand what is being said, especially Ineson’s deep voice. I never particularly found myself concerned for anyone but Thomasin as she seemed to take a lot of heat for unfair reasons. Also, Caleb has a scene where his acting is very believable and it may be the creepiest scene in the whole film.
It’s a good looking period piece. The cinematography, lightning, costumes, and setting are all well done and feel authentic.
The plot seems to be lacking severely. Yes, people in isolation often go crazy. Yes, people who are superstitious will often attribute things that happen to supernatural forces. Yes, grieving parents often neglect their surviving children. Yes, religious freedom is important. Yet, the connections we are supposed to make as to why we should care about any of it seems to be missing. In other words, there was a lot of potential to make this story great and they decided to just tease all of these concepts.
A big issue to me are these horror films trying to straddle the line and leave it up for the audience to decide if the events are supernatural or metaphorical. Some movies the events are happening to the character, but the meaning behind them is meant for the audience to get the metaphor (It Follows). Then, others seem to imply the supernatural elements are all happening in the mind of the character and are used to help get the point across to the audience (Babadook). Then others seems to think ambiguity is the best course of action and not commit to one more than the other. I feel the Witch falls into the third category here.
It is very possible that the events in the film were all brought on by the isolation and frustration of failure that the family is feeling. However, there are scenes that defy that thinking (especially the ending, which left my mouth open and my brain reeling that the director made the choice that he did) and imply strongly that the supernatural aspect is really happening. Had this film decided to go one way more than the other I think it could have been a great film. I, however, feel that the director/writer couldn’t decide and then ending up tacking on a very bad ending to the film that cements it to the worse of the two options the film presented.
I guess it’s just me, but I’m getting tired of horror movies over using the music to build atmosphere in scenes where it’s not needed. Twice, in the first ten minutes of the film we are met with booming music seeming to imply impending doom only to end with a black screen and no events. I love music that builds atmosphere, but over using it reminds me that I’m watching a movie and bad things are going to happen in a movie called The Witch. It Follows did the same thing and it also took me out of the movie. The soundtrack is fine in scenes where it makes sense, but having good music doesn’t make up for not having a purpose.
I went in hoping for a decent movie with a few scary moments, but mainly found myself bored. I kept hoping there would be a big reveal, but there really wasn’t. I’m definitely open to read some other reviews and hopefully find out that I missed the point. I give The Witch a 5 out of 10 goats.