31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #22 – The Witch (2015)

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Tagline: A New England Folktale

Director: Robert Eggers

Writer(s): Robert Eggers

Studio: A24

Budget: $3m

Box Office: $40.4m 

Release Date: 19th February, 2016

IMDb Rating: 6.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Anya Taylor-Joy – Thomasin

Ralph Ineson – William

Kate Dickie – Katherine

Harvey Scrimshaw – Caleb

Ellie Granger – Mercy

Lucas Dawson – Jonas

Trailer

Plot According to Google: In 1630 New England, panic and despair envelops a farmer, his wife and four of their children when youngest son Samuel suddenly vanishes. The family blames Thomasin, the oldest daughter who was watching the boy at the time of his disappearance. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, twin siblings Mercy and Jonas suspect Thomasin of witchcraft, testing the clan’s faith, loyalty and love to one another.

Inertia’s Insight: The debut film from director Robert Eggers that became the sleeper hit of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, The Witch is a masterful exploration of isolation and fear with startling and suggestive imagery throughout.

Cast from their colonial community over a difference of opinion in the interpretation of the New Testament, William and his family must start a new, isolated life in the woods, self-sustaining and free from sin. They find their land, bless it with God’s good words and then set about building their new life. With a cabin, an animal run and a large placement for vegetables they settle in to their pure Puritan life, and before long another child comes along.

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The stunning aspect ratio and photography of this film perfectly encapsulates the power that the forest has on their little piece of land. The rising trees and darkness that lies beyond is a permanent shadow across them and their land. William is a religious man, of that there is no doubt, but his interpretation of the good book leads his family to live in fear of God. Instead of embracing the word of the Lord and celebrating it, they live in fear of sin and constantly ask for forgiveness. This iron weight that bares down on the family doesn’t serve to bring them together but rather divide them, and it’s this wedge that enables the evil to enter their world.

The cold, dark and wet setting coupled with the choice to shoot with natural light creates a downbeat and dreary undercurrent. It feels at times like Eggers was previously a music video director – the imagery is stark and at times disturbing. After their youngest child goes missing after a literal game of peek-a-boo, the blame is laid on Thomasin, the oldest daughter who previously professed to being a witch in order to scare her younger siblings.

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It’s difficult at first to settle in to the film – the script embraces the proper language of New Englander’s in the 1600’s, and so you find yourself catching up with the story as you get to grips with dialect. It’s testament to the acting prowess – particularly Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joy – that they master the language and make it their own. As the paranoia in the family builds and the fractures begin to show, the Devil appears to make idle play with them.

Their crops are rife with disease and their hunting traps are empty. In attempt to impress his Father and restore order to their land, young Caleb decides to go hunting in the forest one morning. Thomasin attempts to assist him but a horse accident knocks her unconscious as Caleb chases their dog deep into the forest. His sexual maturity has previously displayed at times with his sister, so the beautiful young woman that appears in the forest has no trouble luring him in. Again, Eggers only allows us a fleeting glimpse at the possible existence of something supernatural in the forest, but its enough to build a convincing case.

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The film is rife with suggestion; there are no obvious signs that genuine witchcraft is at play. Rather, the imagery suggests a blurred line between reality and fantasy, where not even we are certain of the hand that plays them all on puppet strings. As Caleb returns form the forest with a mysterious illness and then dies after passionately proclaiming his love for Christ, the suggestion of witchcraft heightens and William loses control over his family.

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The final act is a stark and unsettling series of events, beautifully painted by Eggers with more stunning imagery. The Devil is truly at play as the family are pulled apart with the power of suggestion, the Devil invading their lives with that which they covet the most. The image of the crow with Katherine is brief but powerful and will surely leave a mark. As the Devil reveals himself and Thomasin accepts, the ending can leave no doubt in the mind that something far greater than she could have imagined lies beyond forest, and a career awaits Eggers after this stunning debut.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * *

Trivia

  • The film was shot using natural light.
  • Most of the film’s dialogue and story were based on writings from the time.
  • Stephen King is terrified of the film.
  • The film was shot in a rare aspect ratio – 1:66:1.

Quotes

THOMASIN: Black Phillip, I conjure thee to speak to me. Speak as thou dost speak to Jonas and Mercy. Dost thou understand my English tongue. Answer me.
BLACK PHILLIP: What dost thou want?
THOMASIN: What canst thou give?
BLACK PHILLIP: Wouldst thou like the taste of butter and pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
THOMASIN: Yes.
BLACK PHILLIP: Wouldst thou like to see the world.
THOMASIN: What will you from me?
BLACK PHILLIP: Dost thou see a book before thee? Remove thy shift.
THOMASIN: I cannot write my name.
BLACK PHILLIP: I will guide thy hand.

All images courtesy of Google


Tomorrow: Night #23 – V/H/S (2012)

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