Review: The Witch, living deliciously

Robert Eggers’ The Witch is some next level shit—it’s the kind of horror that sneaks up on you, stretching its long and decrepit fingers out of the shadows and right under your skin. It’s masterful in its tension building, crafting and molding its atmosphere into a wicked brand of horror that very few films achieve—simply put, The Witch is built from a foundation of horror that’s earned, not forced, squeezing every ounce of terror from its narrative. In it, a family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.

You’d be hard pressed to talk about The Witch without mentioning its absolute monster of an atmosphere, which is the true star of Eggers’ brilliant little film. He does this simply by establishing a sense of dread from the very beginning, and it maintains its ability to rip your nerves apart until the film’s final, haunting frame. That said, the film is a bit of a crawl—a lot of people are going to struggle with how slow the story moves along—but if you dig any of Ben Wheatley’s stuff (namely Kill List) then you’re going to love this movie, simple as that.

From the moment the movie starts, it’s apparent that Eggers wants you to feel uneasy every step of the way—he does this by ending nearly every scene with some sort of holy shit moment; it’s a tactic that can frustrate some because not every one of those moments has any real payoff… it just kind of leaves the audience hanging by a thread, waiting for something to happen. That, however, is one of my favorite things about The Witch because it amplifies the horror of the movie, and the patience is rewarded with some of the most unsettling imagery of any film this year.

So much of the film is surrounded by silence, letting you squirm in every empty second, making the soundtrack that much more powerful. Because when the horror of The Witch arrives, so does the score—it’s as disorienting as it is haunting, blaring in the background as the wicked woods come to life and evil comes pouring out. And it’s that tandem of unnerving silence being met with a loud, soul-shaking score that makes the atmosphere of the film feel so potent and eerie. There’s that word again: atmosphere. Like I wrote above, it’s hard to talk about this movie without mentioning the world in which Eggers has created—it’s mean, unrelenting, and most of all, scary as hell. But it’s not scary in the traditional sense; there are really only a handful of truly creepy scenes, but they’re so perfectly placed in the narrative—evolving from precise tension and slow build up—that makes it all work so well.

My only real complaint about the movie was the Old English dialog. Entire scenes would go by where I didn’t understand much of what the characters were saying. Like, what did this dude just sayeth? Because of that, some of the plot got lost in translation for me. But all in all, The Witch is a gnarly, slow-burning nightmare that begs for multiple viewings in order to dig through all of its layers and symbology—we could talk about Black Phillip alone for days. It’s filmmaking at its very best, bringing torment and angst to the screen in horrifying fashion.

4.5/5

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If you are ever attacked by a gorilla just sit back and relax while you enjoy the once in a life time feeling of your limbs being ripped off.

27 thoughts on “Review: The Witch, living deliciously

  1. Yes, i agree r/ the dialogue. i plan to watch this online when it comes out, so i can turn on the subtitles. i think we’ll get more from it. I wasn’t a fan of the ending, but overall this was one of the best executed horror movie i’ve ever seen. i look fwd. to rewetting w/ captions to absorb more of it.

  2. That’s interesting you make a note about the decision to use Old English. I thought that was also a plus and a minus. On the one hand, it added immensely to the authenticity of the world-building but on the other you really, REALLY had to pay attention to what was being said, and pretty consistently too. For me I only found it really problematic with Ralph Ineson as the combination of the odd language with his epic, unique voice was a lot to absorb. But man, I tell ya — The Witch is a freaking cool ass movie and one that I cannot believe hasn’t attracted more of an audience. It seems to have completely flown under the radar so far. I blame Black Philip.

    1. Yeah, that’s very true, he was the hardest to understand by far! I think it’ll be a lot easier when it comes out on Blu-ray with subtitles. It’s such an insane movie and I love just how weird and unsettling it is. It’s also one of those movies that you have to watch multiple times to really get the most out of it. BLACK PHILLIP rules so hard!

  3. I rate The Witch 5/5 despite the fact that I, like everyone else, could not always understand the dialogue. This film marked my first time as a movie watcher that I literally had hairs standing up on the back of my neck.

    1. So glad to hear you loved this one, man! It’s really a special movie and one of the very few that lives up to all the hype. Great stuff! The end of the movie (the living deliciously scene) destroyed me. Holy crap!

      1. I’ve been reading some articles where movie-goers have been less than favorable toward it. I think it’s because they wanted/expected an effects-laden horror film with jump scares and couldn’t handle it when they got a movie that relied on great storytelling and acting to deliver the frights.

      2. The theater I was in, after the movie was over the crowd practically groaned with dislike. It’s just not a movie for the average ADHD movie-goer who has to be force-fed a film and can’t stay off their phones.

      3. We live in a society where there exist millions of Gollums whose cellphones just happen to be their “precious”. I always sit in the back row with the wall to my back. As soon as the first trailer begins my phone goes off. There were two occasions during The Witch that the light of some mouth-breathing moron’s phone took me right out of the movie. I am ranting. Okay, I’m done.

      4. Totally agree, man. And what’s worse is that I have more bad theater experience (thanks to the crowd) than good ones, which is why I’m all for day and date releases. I’d rather watch a movie at home where it’s quiet than sit in a theater full of people coughing, babies crying, and grown ass adults sitting on their phones and opening their bags of candy during the quietest scenes in a movie!

    1. Thanks! I think on repeat viewings I’ll warm up to the Old English, and I’m actually looking forward to it! It’s interesting to see how split everyone is over this little gem, so I’m glad you really liked it!

  4. Good review. One note, though: it wasn’t Old English that was spoken in the movie. It wasn’t even Middle English. It was an antiquated English. Old English is a language you wouldn’t understand at all. It has very little resemblance to modern English. Sorry for being pedantic.

    1. You almost have to see this one just to see which side of the fence your on. It’s interesting the kind of response this one is getting, that’s for sure.

      1. ah ok. interesting, so it’s one of those polarizing types, huh? that’s cool, though. I like when horror flicks get people talking and debating!

      2. It really is a polarizing film, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that audiences just aren’t used to a film like this (at least the general public, anyway).

  5. Great post! I would have had this at the top of my top 20 list from last year if it had been released last year, but I saw it at a festival. Your remarks echo mine almost exactly. I didn’t struggle so much with the ye olde English but everything else, I’m with you. I loved the babadook, loved It Follows… But this, this is THE BEST horror film I have ever seen

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