Play with fire, you run the risk of getting burned. Such is the nature of horror cinema these days. But fear not, rejoice in the reward that is 'The Witch,' a direct result of massive risk taking. Not only does writer/director Robert Eggers fan the flames that could have so easily scorched his first full-length feature. Eggers instead commands the inferno, makes it flicker and rage for your sickening entertainment.
Going into 'The Witch,' it's best you be prepared for what you've not only willingly surrendered to, but purchased a ticket to sit front-row-centre and gawk at. When the least appalling visual you’re forced to swallow is a prepubescent male furtively glaring down his sister’s blouse for an inquisitive, yet largely sexual peek at the goods. I suppose coating the inside of your mouth with retardant is the least you could do to prep for the ensuing, unrelenting heat.
To put it gently, ‘The Witch’ is the equivalent of being impaled repeatedly in the midsection with a billygoats horn to a point of irreversible disembowelment. Set in the early 1600s, we accompany a New England family to the periphery of a dense forest upon being banished from their Puritan village. It isn’t long after the unexplainable disappearance of the family’s newborn and the death of their crops that they begin to feel cursed and rather abruptly turn on one another. Needless to say, bloody, violent, bestial mayhem commences, that I will largely spare you the details of.
Interestingly enough, ‘The Witch,’ despite its ferocious, comprehensive depiction of gore and violence, is frequently heavenly to behold, thanks in large part to cinematographer Jarin Blaschke. Filmed in Northern Ontario, Canada, the chilling, unforgiving stillness of a Canadian autumn parallels the film’s themes exquisitely. Personally, I feel even better than Eggers could’ve hoped for, who originally wanted to shoot in New England.
In terms of a message or larger meaning, it could be argued that ‘The Witch’ thematically attacks religion, feminism, or some other currently relevant, hot-button issue. But the scary truth, what I personally believe to be the most terrifying aspect of the film, is its absence of an agenda. As its tagline hints, Evil does indeed take many forms, but what’s more frightening than a formless, impalpable, unknown significance?
Led by a formidable performance from Anya Taylor-Joy, Eggers’ goosebumps-inducing dialogue, and a finale that’s guaranteed to send shivers throughout your extremities. Robert Eggers’ ‘The Witch’ is the stuff nightmares are made of.
To quote the insanely subtle wisdom of Black Phillip. “Woulds’t thou like to live deliciously?