By Sean Ray | a&e editor
It’s pretty safe to say that no one finds witches scary anymore. Most people picture an old woman with green skin, flying on a broom and easily defeated by a bucket of water. With that in mind, “The Witch” takes utter glee in turning those tired old tropes completely around into mind-bendingly terrifying territory.
Taking place in the early colonial days of America, “The Witch” follows Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a teenage girl who, along with her family, is exiled from her village and forced to find a place to settle in the wilderness of New England. At first, all goes well as the family is able to build a small farm and Thomasin’s mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie), has another baby. But when that baby is kidnapped, the family begins to realize something evil lurks in the woods around their home, and they may not have long to live.
As stated, the film revels in making witches frightening again while still remaining true to the legends and myths everyone is familiar with. For example, the witch creates a potion within her cauldron, but instead of using ingredients like an eye of newt, she uses children’s body parts.
Do not expect to see too much of the villain either. The titular character has clearly been taking lessons from “The Blair Witch Project,” given that she’s only seen two or three times during the film’s entire length. However, this proves to be effective, turning the old hag into a seemingly unstoppable random force, ready to attack at a moment’s notice.
Beyond the horror, the acting of the main characters is also to be commended. Taylor-Joy is wonderful as Thomasin and makes for a compelling figure to follow, strong in personality while also realistically depicting a girl growing up in those times. Ralph Ineson deserves special praise as the family patriarch, William, his deep voice lending itself well to the character’s stubborn nature.
As might be expected for a directorial debut, the film does have a few puzzling mistakes. Characters occasionally seem to change their mood with the flip of a switch, making decisions that were not well foreshadowed. Furthermore, while the scary scenes are amazingly tense (the film made a rabbit seem terrifying), they are too spaced out, which kills the mood quite a bit. Not to say the drama doesn’t make for a compelling story, but this is a horror movie after all.
But the film succeeds where it needs to and does so with flying colors. More classic horror movie monsters deserve the same treatment this film gave to witches. It manages to be refreshingly original, while still paying homage to the classic stories that inspired it.
Excellent review, you are spot-on! And if you like witches, you may enjoy The Lords of Salem. It’s flawed but often effective!