By: Samar Khan
A horror movie, in February? A horror movie receiving rave reviews? No, this isn’t the 1970’s and no, we are not reviewing The Exorcist. Rather, we are proud to be reviewing a film that is as strange and foreign a concept as can be, yet succeeds in nearly every way imaginable; this review is about a film that is based on an OLDDDD New England folk tale and lacks any major stars on screen or behind the scenes.
Is it really all that good? Ladies and gentlemen, The Witch is so good that we here at The Film Lawyers have no issue already calling it the best film of 2016. After reading this review, I promise you will want to go watch it in theatres. Make sure to thank us after.
Anyway, a brief plot synopsis will be provided here so I can somewhat prepare you for what you are about to experience (spoilers will be kept to a minimum). Essentially, the tale is about a man that defects from his Church which he perceives as being entirely decadent and attempts to prove his piousness by moving out into the middle of nowhere in New England with his family. Keep in mind, this is New England in the 1630’s, so the British accents are not out of place. Anyway, in keeping with the spoiler free formula, the story portrays a man’s pride and hypocrisy leading his family into a bleak future. In a way, The Witch is more a psychological thriller than it is horror; the film just oozes evil and does not utilize what you typically associate with a horror film (jump scares, etc.). Seriously, just watch it. The film was magnificent to such an extent, the majority of the audience left in a mesmerized state, pondering the nature of what they had just seen.
Moving on from the plot, we turn to the characters that tend to be the lifeblood of, oh, every film out there. The film is anchored by veteran British actors Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie (fondly known by most as Lysa Arryn from Game of Thrones) who dazzle in their own ways. Ineson is a marvel as the aforementioned proud and hypocritical father, portraying a man who is not above shifting responsibility for his own sins onto his own children. I can honestly say that his performance was as good as I have seen in many a year from the man, despite the fact he has played rather large roles in films such as Kingsman: The Secret Service and the Harry Potter series. Dickie is absolutely frightening as the mother of 4 children, one who knows she has to stick by her husband but is not beyond manically accusing her own children of questionable activity. If you thought she was chilling as the overbearing Lysa Arryn in Game of Thrones, The Witch will showcase just how much more she can elevate her game.
The real star of the film however, is Argentine-Anglo-American starlet Anya Taylor-Joy. Playing the conflicted eldest child of two ludicrously devout parents, her role in a story that takes place during a time when the mere cry of “witchcraft” was enough to have a woman killed is easily the most integral. Her character experiences the majority of events that occur and her transitioning from cheerfully playing with her younger siblings to menacingly frightening an annoying sibling was something to behold. Very rarely can one watch a film, especially one as relatively obscure as The Witch, and proclaim that a star is being born before our eyes but that’s something that can easily apply to Taylor-Joy and the talent she brought to the screen.
In a way, the biggest star of the film was director Robert Eggers, with his choice of cinematography, dialogue, music and the choice of setting being utterly entrancing. Watching the film, one couldn’t help but think that this is definitely what 1630’s New England must have been like, with the quality presentation being something that could pass as a period piece. The cinematography was absolutely beautiful, with the film remaining muted in tone throughout its entirety, a decision that was actually for the best as it lent an extra air of authenticity to the setting. Combine said visuals with a soundtrack that will blow you away with its minimalistic yet apropos nature, something that I can’t do justice to by merely attempting to describe it. The correct placement of ominous times is complemented by the overlaying bleak yet faint sound in the majority of frames and it just meshes perfectly together. The dialogue for the most part was excellent, with no wooden performances or poor wording for certain characters noticeably damaging the quality of any scene.
The dialogue, for all the praise I have bestowed upon it merely one paragraph above, did have slight flaws that drag the film down JUSTTTT a tad. That concerns mainly the accent part of it, something that was a prominent issue with Macbeth a few months back. There were frames that could have benefited from subtitles, with the film employing primarily British actors speaking in Olden-English dialogue that was at times tough to discern. Not a noticeable issue, as the film managed to redeem itself mostly by ensuring each scene could be understood merely by watching the characters on screen but it is a nitpick that detracts ever so slightly from the film.
The last time a horror film or psychological thriller managed to wow audiences was ages ago, a true travesty in a day where mediocre films such as the Paranormal Activity series tend to take over the box office. The Witch is one of those special films that just straddles the line between horror and psychological thriller and does it extremely well. There is a hefty slate of new releases coming up these next few weeks but we here at The Film Lawyers heartily recommend making time to catch the best film of 2016 so far.
After careful consideration, we here at The Film Lawyers have decided to grace The Witch with a grade of A- (8.8/10).