As a huge fan of the horror genre, I always delight in the chance to get an opportunity to plop my ass down and dive into what usually ends in disappointment. The Witch, from first time writer/director Robert Eggers comes on the heels of Sundance with a lot of positive buzz ,and I held hope in high regard for this one. It’s not often that a small horror film receives so much buzz and is poised for a big theatrical release. Honestly if a horror movie is about to hit theaters you can almost rest assured it’s going to be terrible. The problem with this film is it doesn’t live up to the hype or its initial promise, although to say it’s terrible would be unfair. Don’t get me wrong Eggers got some things right in his debut but in the end it was slow burn to nowhere.
The film tells the tale of an English farmer and his family, in New England circa 1630, who are cast out of the plantation community they live in by the church to seek refuge on a small farm that rests on the edge of an ominous forest. We watch as his family begins to unravel after the eldest daughter loses her infant brother, which has been unknowingly taken by a witch in the forest just beyond the farm. It sets itself up as a slow unraveling of the family that falls deeper into religious fanaticism as strange things begin to happen on the farm. The film is seen through the eyes of the eldest daughter, who earnestly tries to keep the family together even as things worsen. It builds, albeit very slowly, to a complete demise of violence and hysteria.
It purports to have been constructed directly from folktales and actual documents surrounding the religious hysteria of the time. Although it feels genuine it makes the dialogue a tad stiff. To the films credit it is both well shot and the score is intensely haunting. Both are used to build dread and cascade the film to its conclusion, which is where it misses the mark. With a cast of competent unknowns and a great performance from new comer Anya Taylor-Joy as the eldest daughter Thomasin the acting is sincere. The problem is the film itself never really amounts to anything and aside from a few creepy moments, which mostly come from genre troupes; it really isn’t scary at all. It becomes a letdown having been lured through the first two thirds of the movie anticipating more as the camera and sound would suggest only getting the fizzle of a payoff. It’s like the equivalent of a promising blow job only to have it end with your partner spitting out the joy (or worse have your roommate walk in before you finish). The end of the film is simply a letdown. It’s unfortunate too because there was a lot to like but when a film puts so much credence into building dread for an hour only to give a taste of what you would expect or hope for; it just doesn’t work. I can say this; it’s a hell of a lot better than another Paranormal Activity flick. As a side not, it was endorsed recently by the Church of Satan so if you take stock in the Lord of Darkness’s mouth piece maybe you’ll like it better than I did…. Maybe.