February 22, 2016

Movie Monday: The Witch: A New England Folktale

The Alamo Drafthouse has been pushing The Witch hard, and The A.V. Club gave it a fantastic B-grade review.  Given that I've enjoyed other recently hyped horror movies such as The Babadook, I decided to give it a try.

Writer and director Robert Eggers put quite a bit of research into this project.  The Witch uses dialogue that often comes from diaries, court records, and other primary documents.  I didn't find this hard to follow, but I've read many texts from the time they were sourcing from.  There were times I wished for the characters to enunciate more, mostly in times of great emotion.

The Witch won a directing award at Sundance, and I can see why.  This is Robert Eggers' first film, but it looks beautiful and uses sound compellingly.  The seventeenth-century costumes are fantastic, and the natural light bathes everything beautifully.  I sometimes found that the score veering into cliche horror strings, but the use of silence was more sophisticated.  Many shots are done from a distance, which really expresses the isolation of the main family in a simple visual way.

William, his wife, and their children are banished from the plantation because of his refusal to stop preaching the Gospels as he sees them.  Winter is coming to their isolated farm, and it doesn't look good.  Their corn crop is failing, for one.  Worse, the baby son was stolen away while eldest sister Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) played with him.  Things start going even more wrong from their, and each member of the family begins to accuse other members of being behind the curse.

The acting is on par with the direction.  Taylor-Joy is fantastic, with her wide, expressive eyes.  Many key points of the movie are shot with her face in close-up, just reacting.  I fully expect to see her showing up in many more roles.  Harvey Scrimshaw does a fine job as the eldest brother Caleb, too.  Both of them do a good job of portraying their uneasiness with the situation.  The younger children playing the twins also do well enough.

At the same time, I found The Witch mostly boring.  The witch is shown very early in the movie, which removes any suspense about the cause of the events on the farm.  It also takes a long time for the story to kick into gear.  Then, the ultimate ending simply didn't work for me.  The Witch is a film with a psychological level, but it just fell apart at the end.  The character's final choice was wonderfully acted and shot in a beautiful way, but the film failed to make me believe the choice.

I think Eggers' has talent, but hope his second story lives up to his direction.

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