“The Witch” is a psychological supernatural thriller that is set in colonial New England. The film starts with a Puritan family in a courtroom, being exiled from the community for some unexplained religious reasons. There’s husband and wife and 5 children — 1 infant and 4 of unspecified ages. They are forced to try to live outside of the community, working a farm and hunting and basically making do with whatever they can forage. Pretty soon, things start going very wrong on the farm — the big event, which is right in the trailer, is that the infant goes missing, while under the older daughter’s supervision. As things continue to go bad, it is suspected that witchcraft may be involved.
The movie is being marketed as a horror film, which is probably a good classification for it. But it’s not one of those awful jump-scare or slasher films that pass today for horror. This is, in some ways, a more traditional horror/suspense film, that works more as a slow burn, as the fear and suspicions continue to ramp up with each new incident. In a lot of ways, it’s about how superstition and suspicion can tear a family apart and drive people to madness. But the family does, in fact, seem to be cursed so there’s more to it than just superstition.
The main players include Anya Taylor-Joy, in a standout role, as Thomasin, the oldest daughter, who becomes fearful of accusations because of teasing she receives from one of the twins. The older brother Caleb, is played by Harvey Scrimshaw, who is quite believable as the older brother. Ralph Ineson plays William, the strong father and provider for their family, and Kate Dickie, the plays Katherine, who is a loving but suffering mother, and really the religious firebrand in the family.
I have to admit that it took me a little bit to get used to the accents in the film For me, it was pretty bad — I found myself wishing for subtitles at times. I gradually did get used to it, and I can’t say for sure that any of the dialog that i missed was critical to understanding the general gist of the film. But it might have. It just needed to be said. Granted, my hearing isn’t what it used to be, so you may not have the same issue as I did. Sometimes it also may have to do with your location in the theater relative to acoustics and speakers and so on.
The colonial setting was quite effective in creating the feeling of a family isolated — cut off from society, having to survive without any outside help. When things start to go wrong, they really have to fend for themselves. It’s an unusual setting for a horror film. But this is an unusual horror film, and it’s perfect for the story being told.
But I have to say, in spite of all of the things that did work for me, I was disappointed with the last act of the film. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I’ll say that it didn’t work for me as well as the rest of the movie. I really wanted to like it — and I actually did for a while. But in the end, I was left cold. So I’m not going to recommend it. I will say that I don’t usually go to horror films. This one seemed like it would be a lot smarter than most, and I do tend to like the smarter horror movie,s like the original “Poltergeist”, and “The Exorcist”, and a few others. And it was a smarter kind of horror film than the usual fair. But still, I did not like the ending of this one.