Sometimes the most memorable stories we have ever known are the ones from our childhood. The folktales or fables that are so strikingly moralistic that they are almost too educational or pristine to swallow. As we get older and reflect on these stories, many times they are more crass and creepy than we once thought. The simple fact is many of these tales scared us straight. As we get even older, we also realize that the world is not black and white. Shades of grey turn everything blurry and complicated. What was once easy going and simple, suddenly turns grim and inescapable.
So how does all of this connect with The Witch? Ultimately, The Witch is a complex blend of many fables and folktales that resemble the same stories we grew up on. The Witch feels old, worn, unchanging, yet it is so refreshing and spectacular. The story focuses on a 17th century Puritan family that is banished from their New England plantation. After settling in a very isolated area right on the edge of a forest, everything seems to be going swimmingly. After months, the youngest member of the family is stolen and everything starts to unravel. The crops turn to shit, the goats aren’t producing milk, and most importantly everyone in the house begins to question their faith. In fact, evil begins to prod and poke tiny little holes into the sanctimonious fabric of the family.
The Witch is such a slow paced terror that the viewer doesn’t even notice all the little changes taking place. The once prideful and austere father suddenly begins to bend the rules for certain members of the family. The mother’s love for her children suddenly turns sour. Even the littlest of children begin to behave strangely. In fact it is only the untrustworthy protagonist, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), that seems to be holding everything together. The viewer really sees everything through her eyes, for better or for worse. In a film where everything seems so grim, it is important to have someone to latch onto, but The Witch somehow makes a point to eliminate any safe ground for the viewer. Is Thomasin someone we can trust?
What The Witch teaches us is that you should really never put your faith into anyone as flawed as any of the family members in the film. It feels like throughout the movie you are missing a really important piece of the story. Why the family was banished is questionable and the relationship between each family member seems inappropriate. There is this gnawing sense of sexuality and sin that permeates throughout the film and it really comes to a head by the end. Many viewers have commented on just how slow and heavy the movie is. Yes, The Witch moves slowly, but the design and attention to detail is amazing. The accents are thick and can be difficult to understand, but what is a great period piece without accurate representation? Furthermore, the scares are different than most modern horror films. There are no pop scares, just individual scenes that leave scars.
The Witch initially focuses on the unseen. Why is this family being punished? Why are certain members of the family more susceptible to evil than others? And most importantly, is there really a witch or devil? Of course, by the end of the movie the last question is answered, but many questions are left for the viewer to determine. The ending is subtlety satisfying. It felt raw and destined. It felt like a scene that was bound to take place, but we as the viewer never thought we would see it. What began as a film that was so mysterious, turns into this brutal realization of the truth; no human is truly free of sin. It feels liberating, but it also feels harsh. No matter what, you can’t argue that The Witch doesn’t make you feel, talk, and question, which is the sign of an amazing film. Take heed, this a movie that every horror fan should watch.