The Witch: Accents, Bleakness & Perfect Religious Horror – My Thoughts

On Friday night I, as usual, took myself to the cinema to watch a film that I was particularly looking forward to. I hadn’t read or watched  a lot about The Witch before going in but I knew from what I had seen that this would be a rare great horror…and I wasn’t disappointed…

If you know me, you’ll know of my distaste of most  horror films of recent years…a feeling which I’m sure many true fans of the genre share. Walking into The Witch, I was confident of something different, something actually worthwhile and from what I had heard from the very reputable sources I listen to from the US, this one was well worth watching. It surely was that. I have seen very few films that are the very essence of a ‘slow-burn’ and this is one of them.

This film centres around an English family in New England who have been banished from their pilgrim village in the 1630s. They have set up a farm on the outskirts of a forest and strange and disturbing events begin to occur (not giving anything away) which leads the family to believe witchcraft and satanism is involved.

The Witch is a quiet film, a bleak film and a slow film but that is what makes it all the more effective. Debut director, Robert Eggers masterfully creates an intense atmosphere that gets within you as an audience member and thoroughly unsettles you throughout the entire film. Some of the imagery seen in The Witch is truly disturbing and this subtle use of extremely violent moments (if that makes sense) fit the film’s tone perfectly. The wonderful Alicia Malone, in her review, said that she came across a quote somewhere that likened The Witch to ‘The Crucible meets The Shining’ and I think that is a perfect way to describe this one. The paranoia felt in the film due to the supposed ‘witch’ perfectly links it to The Crucible (about the Salem Witch Trials a few decades later) and likening it to The Shining with the idea of an isolated family under intense stress that eventually breaks down is also an excellent comparison.

What sets this film apart from the majority of horrors these days is the acting…which is genuinely excellent. Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, the daughter and central character of the film, is fantastic and is easily one of the most solid female leads in recent horror…I have little doubt that her performance in this will be talked about by genre fanatics for a good few years to come. Ralph Ineson, who plays the father, is also very good, bringing the intensity and the panic that the film called for at the right time and creating a thoroughly believable head of a struggling household that awful things are happening to. Kate Dickie, as the estranged mother, is excellent, bringing the breakdown of the family’s sanity out in full force and leaving us with some images that are still deep inside my head. There is a particular scene involving her having a hallucination that is genuinely one of the creepiest, most disturbing scenes I’ve seen from a horror in some time (I’m sure those of you who have seen the film know exactly what I’m talking about).

I also wanted to bring up Harvey Scrimshaw, who plays Caleb, the son who does a fantastic job for a young actor in all areas whether he is playing it sincere and with question or, in one particular scene where he goals completely off the rails in an equally disturbing way as his on-screen mother does a little later on. The kid’s no Jacob Tremblay but I see no reason why he can’t have a prosperous future (if only in the genre) after giving that performance.

I’m continually trying to not give anything away while writing this, which, I think, if you’re reading this before you’ve seen the film you’ll thank me for. The ending of this one seems to have received mixed opinions from what I’ve seen but personally I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. I thought the ending was actually rather interesting especially when you look at it from a standpoint where you are aware of the history of the horror genre. What happens at the end of this one is certainly (for me) a satisfying conclusion to this story that I think fits very nicely with the film’s overall mysterious and intensely dark tone. I will say this…you will never look at a goat the same way again.

I am a huge fan of religion-based horror films (except surprisingly The Exorcist) such as The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man, the latter and The Witch both falling under that somewhat forgotten and fantastic sub-genre of ‘Folk Horror’ (if you want to know more about that, you can read my thoughts on The Wicker Man (1973) here) and The Witch is, as far as I’m concerned, a perfect way to make a religion-based horror film. The Satanist undertones throughout this one help to create the unsettling atmosphere and when you contrast that with the strict, puritanical Christian nature of the family is works to create sheer panic. Think of the setting too…in the 1630s, religion was the main part of English lives and to have such horrific things both happen to the family and threaten to be done is incredibly effective in creating the overall thoroughly unsettling atmosphere in a similar way that the Satanism in Rosemary’s Baby did in 1968 (although that was a modern setting).

Bringing it back to personal thoughts now, I consider The Witch to be one of the finest films of the genre in some years and certainly one of the finest religion-based horrors since those classics I mentioned. I’ve had a couple of days to wallow this one over now and I stand by that statement…I know it’s been getting a slight bit of hate but personally I can’t understand that. I genuinely think that The Witch was that good…perhaps just because it’s something so different to the stuff we usually see these days.

A post on The Witch wouldn’t be complete without some mention of the accents though would it. I think this may have been where most people who didn’t like the film fell off. The thick Yorkshire accents speaking Old English does take some concentration (even for a fellow Northerner like myself) to understand but if you do concentrate with this one and you are patient with it, what you’ll get is an experience of a truly fine horror film and one that is a welcome difference to the genre. Thinking about it now, hearing the characters talk with this accent may also be a reason I could identify with them more and that’s perhaps why this one felt so effective to me…but, that might just be me.

Just know that The Witch is a definite must-watch for any genre fan and anyone that’s willing to give a real slow-burner the attention it deserves…you won’t regret it.

Be sure to let me know your thoughts on The Witch in the comments or you can tweet me or follow me on Instagram for more.

More Film Soon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *