Editor’s Notes: The Witch is out in limited theatrical release.
Trees, shrubbery, betrayal, blood, black magic, love in disrepair, hopeless terror. Paint a picture of hell on Earth using these shades, and the ensuing portrait is a glimpse into a nightmare. Not just any old nightmare, the kind without a true exit, in which all doors lead to the same prison. You’re not in your right mind, you’re scared, you’re in danger and you know it. Scraping echoes from some unknown, ambiguous origin, and you remain there waiting because that’s all you can do. Unseen horrors creep into view, and paralysis takes hold. You’ve forgotten what’s real. It’s slipped your mind that this place holding you breathless is just your theater seat, as you sit watching The Witch.
First-time director Robert Eggers has, for all intents and purposes, orchestrated a perfect film with The Witch.
First-time director Robert Eggers has, for all intents and purposes, orchestrated a perfect film with The Witch. It’s an experience that doesn’t just make the viewer feel unsafe, it invites them to, laying out a darkly alluring carpet onscreen, of which every thread leads into the hands of an insidious presence busy manipulating their fears. Unfiltered evil pervades this story of a New England family in 1630, living on a farm at the edge of a dark forest, whose lives fall apart at the hands of their paranoia and a mysterious witch turning their sins against them. We’re not simply scared by the events transpiring, we feel as if we’ve been forced to watch them happen, unable to stop anything or look away, with our heads held firm. This family, defined by religion, sees their faith wrenched away as they sink deeper into hell, away from all that they see as good. And, when everything’s said and done, we’re essentially tossed out of a moving car, only left with the fear that what we just witnessed may come not just for us, but for all of us as a species. Whether or not you’re a spiritual person, The Witch will burn one unshakable statement into your brain: Evil never ends, never stops, and with time always wins.
All of it feels so profoundly unsettling, so unforgettable, so invasively brilliant.
All of it feels so profoundly unsettling, so unforgettable, so invasively brilliant because each member of the central plagued family has their lives entirely rooted in the non-physical, exclusively in that which they believe. The resulting horror is then existential, not threatening just death to these New Englanders, but a departure from anything and everything. We’re shown that though there’s always been good in the world, there’s always been something looking to tear it down. So, even if we see a physical monster of some kind onscreen, the true monster is invisible, unseen, lurking in the shadows. This dread is made even more harrowing when the family is shown to commit sins in varying ways, or be tempted to do so, implying they’ve been wavering from their faith since the very beginning. As their punishment is delivered over the next 90 minutes, they act worse and worse, only exposing themselves further to these evils that lurk in the world. It’s this sense of helplessness, them unknowingly playing into the hands of what they’re afraid of, that fuels empathy.
Every psychological nerve tapped in The Witch comes to a chilling head at some point before the final frame, confirming that, aesthetically and mentally, this is the most poetic representation of a descent into hell that we’ll see for ages to come. The cast is a large part of this, with Anya Taylor-Joy sending you into frantic worry as the only true innocent in her family, Ralph Ineson conveying fatherly paranoia with every moment of screentime, and Kate Dickie falling into a cocktail of maternal loss and delusional psychosis. Every facet of the creative team here can be thanked, from the writers, to the set designers, to the amazing composer Mark Korven, and especially Robert Eggers, who spearheaded such an undoubtedly challenging project and came out of it with something unforgettable. Their efforts have all come together to create a riveting and horrific art piece that marinates in the gargantuan, looming terror of spiritual warfare before stealing away your innocence for a night.
Once The Witch ends, you may feel unsafe, you may feel unnerved, you may need to hug somebody close to you for comfort’s sake. But god, you’ll never have felt better in your life.
The Witch ends, you may feel unsafe, you may feel unnerved, you may need to hug somebody close to you for comfort's sake. But god, you'll never have felt better in your life.