Set in 1630, The Witch follows a religious family, struggling to live on their own after being banished from their Puritan plantation. As tensions rise, suspicion and paranoia set in, testing the family’s faith in God and in each other.
I didn’t know much about The Witch, but I knew I needed to watch it. I heard from several people that it was one of the best horror films in recent years. I knew it was a period piece, and obviously about witchcraft, but I didn’t know much more than that.
The Witch made its debut at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where it won for best director (Brent Eggers in his directorial debut). Soon after, the rights to the film were acquired by A24, and the film received a wide theatrical release in 2016. The Witch has absolutely stunning reviews online, boasting a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s sparked a decent discussion on the re-emergence of interest in religious themes in film. It’s all really good feedback.
Overall, this is a beautiful film. I’m not even touching on the themes yet. From a cinematic perspective, it is beautiful. The setting is so genuine, so remote. The director filmed in an area of Canada that really gives off the feeling of solitude, a menacing, lonely solitude. The cinematography is so symmetrical that it gives off an eerie vibe throughout the entire film. The lighting is creative and fantastic. It looks beautiful.
The music is also fantastic. I’m not really a big music buff, but the composer Mark Korven created a masterpiece. It’s so hard to describe the music. It’s loud. It’s off putting and odd. It really puts you on edge. When you pair the music with the imagery, you create a viewer who is slowly sinking back in their seat, waiting for something to happen, something to release the tension. There is no release though. The tension just continues to build up to the film’s climax. It’s brilliant.
On top of that, the editing deserves some note. Louise Ford is credited for the editing of the film, so good job! The way that the film uses transitions is great. There are a lot of long pauses of black that work with the overflowing tension. There’s a great use of smash cuts. The closest thing to a jump scare in The Witch is the smash cuts, switching between a lingering shot of calm and silence to the dramatic smash of an axe on wood. Every time I was expecting a jump scare, there never was one. My expectations were thrown through the loop.
In terms of acting, I have no complaints. I was in awe of some of the performances. Each actor portrays a character from this time period so well. I have to give them props for being able to speak in the way that they all did. The characters in the film speak with terms like “thy” and “thee” which may be difficult for the modern viewer to understand. I know there were some parts I needed translated. These parts were usually bits of scripture that I was unfamiliar with.
This is a perfect transition to the themes in The Witch. It relies heavily on religion, witchcraft, and faith. The largest conflict in the film is the family’s struggle with faith. It’s an unsettling view of the Devil pervading the lives of a devout family. One quote I’ve read about the film that I thought summed it up well is from Josh Larsen of Think Christian. It says that by dealing in absolutes and “refusing to allow for grace, they become easy pickings.” This really is the best way to describe it. As you watch the family go through the film, you feel as though you’re watching something private and personal that you shouldn’t be seeing.
The Witch is a relatively short film, sitting at about 90 minutes. Despite this length, there is definitely a lot of content in it. It’s a heavy film. It’s also a really slow burn, so if you’re put off by slower films, then this might not be for you.
Overall, I was completely blown away by The Witch, and I will most likely be adding it to my collection, if only for the beautiful cinematography. It’s very well crafted. I definitely recommend!