Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Witch (***)

Written and Directed by Robert Eggers


Robert Eggers' feature film debut is a brooding, fierce little film that takes pains to tell us that its setting, story and dialogue are based on actual accounts from the time. I'm not sure The Witch needs to reassure the audience in that way. Historical accuracy isn't going to make it more or less scary - and boy, is this film scary. When a Puritan family is banished from its plantation, its attempt to make life work in a small, modest piece of land just outside of the woods is faced with great turmoil in the form of a possible witch which picks off the newborn infant and begins terrorizing the family in disturbing ways. Beyond the focus on witchcraft, Eggers' powerful film is also stocked with the details of Puritan faith, and the course they must take to fight the power of the devil. While The Witch shows little interest in interpreting the meaning of the devil's attack on this New England family, what it does focus on is fascinating. The Witch isn't interested in dissection, but in blunt exhibition. It very much wants to be the most accurate film that we've seen about the phenomenon of Puritan-witch relations. In its lack of critical thought, is Eggers attempting to say that these instances of witchcraft are real? A lot of literature has been dedicated to show that the tales of witchery that came out of Seventeenth Century New England were all results of spiritual hysteria. The Witch seems to be pointing in the opposite direction, stating that the very stature of the Puritans' high-minded religiosity made them the perfect target for the devil and his female servants. Anya Taylor-Joy plays the teenaged Thomasin, the eldest child whose disfavor in the eyes of her mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie), leads to her being accused of being the very witch they fear. William (Ralph Ineson), the family's patriarch, struggles to make heads or tails of the course of events that plagues his family. Eggers' film is a masterwork of tone, and it helps that the film's performances are on point. Not to mention Mark Korven's grating score which completes the film utterly unsettling atmosphere. The Witch's ending is a verbose crescendo that partly belies the spirit of the film, but in keeping in the tradition of the story up until that point, it is creepy as hell.

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