Festival Review: The Witch (2015)

The Witch

An old fashioned tale of God-fearing devilry and witchcraft in New England, Robert Eggers’ The Witch sacrifices tension for gothic set pieces.

Into The Woods

by Mark Wilshin

The Witch

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Based on an old New England folktale, Robert Eggers’ debut feature The Witch casts us back into the days of pilgrim forefathers, bonnets and shifts. And its central premise of a family who move away from a plantation for fear of their ungodly ways and find themselves alone in God’s country on the edge of a forest, reveals a rapid fall from grace as they’re picked off one by one from supernatural forest dwellers, as lie piles on lie and suspicions abound, each fearful of the other’s witchcraft. Adapted from contemporary texts, the script full of hithers and thithers doesn’t always work, and despite some good performances from Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, The Witch turns from laughable to ridiculous when eldest son Caleb is seduced by a buxom Red Riding Hood in the woods, as mother Katherine is suckled by a pecking crow, or as the Devil speaks through the mouth of a billy goat. Let alone the preposterous ending. To begin with it’s an interesting collection of godliness and Christian fear of the devil – with its ancient symbols of evil, as the family are surveyed by crows and hares. But the superstitious folklore of the era gives way to tired clichés lacking in imagination – and it’s uncertain whether we’re supposed to be caught up in it or belittle the 1600 folk their credulity. Muddying the waters from the beginning – with everyone suspected of being a potential witch, Robert Eggers’ The Witch has none of the structure required of a horror movie, making up for its lack of tension and final girl catharsis with an aggressive soundtrack and an over the top series of frights and bumps. A now archaic story of evil lurking in the woods, the only spell The Witch is casting is a serious case of deja vu.

The Witch is now showing at the London Film Festival

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