Published on February 19th, 2016 | by Tracey Barrientos0
Based on New England folklore, Robert Eggers brings us his debut film The With.
William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) are the parents of five children living in 1630 New England. This God-fearing family has become dissatisfied with how their town chose to live by the word of God. William hopes to promote change in the town, instead he causes his family to be banished left only to find a patch of land bordered by dark dense woods to call home. Luckily they have Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) the eldest daughter who is in charge of looking after her younger siblings. A pre teen Caleb, unruly twins Mercy and Jonas and baby Samuel along with all of the household chores. Newborn Samuel has fate working against him when he suddenly disappears during an afternoon round of peekaboo.
The family is left heartbroken. With no sign of Samuel’s return William declares that this must have been the act of a wolf. Thomasin’s siblings soon become suspicious that this was not the work of a wolf, that she has to have succumbed to the malevolent forces of witchcraft. Mercy has also claimed that she and her twin brother have been conversing with their goat Black Phillip one would assume only jokingly from children. There might just be something darker going on. As the days progress and their crops continue to fail, tensions between the family grow. Things start to go bump in the night making the situation more oppressive each day.
This film is described as a horror genre film, after screening it though I felt it lean more towards a psychological thriller. When asked what films inspired The Witch Robert Eggers mentioned Stephen King’s The Shinning which to me really shines through the film. Most importantly the film is based on actual historical accounts of witchcraft in a time where men feared a woman’s power and sexuality. In my opinion the horror in it is the unknown, because even though you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I suppose it can be viewed as both horror and psychological.
Paying close attention to detail Eggers’ immerses the audience into 1630 New England. It’s hard to believe that it was filmed in Canada and not New England because of how accurate every little detail is from the hand stitched costumes to the intricacies of the dialogue. Perhaps this can be credited to his former career as a production designer and costume designer. The music alone adds the perfect amount of horror to make those hairs on the back of your neck stand up. This film is an excellent portrait of amazing filmmaking and horrific historical folklore.
Second Review By Don Guillory
The Salem Witch trials are introduced to students throughout the nation as part of their history and language arts courses. In examining the period, young adults are given a glimpse as to colonial life that doesn’t require them to travel to New England or Colonial Williamsburg in order to take part in the living history portrayals. We are told of the hysteria that people found themselves caught in the middle of due to religious beliefs and fear.
The Witch gives viewers a taste of that world much as many of us had in our high school curriculum. The film follows a family fresh from their ostracism from a settlement as they hope to establish their lives on a new plot of land. In their pursuit to survive the elements and assert their independence, we witness how they are quickly derailed as the family finds themselves as the target of witchcraft and demonic possession.
The film itself is very ambitious in its attempt to not only serve as providing a historical lens into the colonial world and how people carried on with their lives in the 17th century. The problem is that there is more focus on history than suspense and horror. This makes some of the plot elements confusing and distracting. There are very few glimpses, throughout much of the film, of the witch or any elements that are affecting the family negatively in order to make the audience fully engrossed. As a result, I found myself looking at my watch several times throughout the viewing as I was waiting for the story to build or have something on the screen reflect the intent behind the horror film genre. What I found myself a part of was a 17th century version of The Blair Witch Project. I became disinterested in the characters or their well-being. I found myself cheering for the witch to finish them off. I couldn’t connect with them or have any measure of sympathy for them.
I wanted a horror movie and was a witness to historical narrative. As a history film displaying the legends and folklore, it is ideal. The language and circumstances included allow for the audience to fall into the period, although it will have viewers begging for subtitles in order to follow along with the dialogue. As a horror movie, it misses the mark. The most terrifying thing about The Witch for audiences is that upon leaving the theater, they will come to the realization that they have just invested time and money with very little payoff.