Movie Review: The VVitch: A New-England Folktale (2015)
“Evil takes many forms”
The Witch (2015)
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Synopsis: A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
The story of a family home besieged by supernatural forces has been revisited so many times since little Regan MacNeil played host to a demon more than forty years ago that you’d think it wasn’t possible to add anything new to the sub-genre. However, first-time feature director Robert Eggers gives it some fresh impetus by placing the terrorised family at the centre of The VVitch in an historical New England setting, immediately prior to the infamous 17th Century Salem witch trials. It’s an era in which religion is a source of fear and oppression rather than spiritual redemption, and The VVitch‘s very first scene sees William (Ralph Ineson – Shopping, Kingsman: The Secret Service), a puritanical settler from England, and his family of seven formally ostracised from their community because of William’s prideful assertion that his fellow brethren are false Christians.
The family is almost immediately beset by problems. Their crop fails, blighted by a fungus which causes hallucinations if ingested, and William is a poor hunter, so food is scarce. The family’s homestead is situated on the edge of a large, forbidding forest in which the children are forbidden from playing – and for good reason. Deep within that forest dwells a witch who, in the time it takes for eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) to uncover her eyes while playing peekaboo with youngest family member Samuel, snatches the baby. A frantic search follows, but we know young Samuel will never be found, because, in the film’s most gruesome scene, he is butchered by the aged witch, and his fat smeared over her naked body to give her the power of flight. It’s the first of an increasing number of inexplicable occurrences. Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), the twins who are now the youngest members of the family, begin chanting strange rhymes to a black goat, and the oldest son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), returns from the forest naked and speaking in tongues.
The VVitch is a mood piece which, instead of the shock tactics employed by more conventional horror movies, creates a genuinely eerie atmosphere to disturb and unsettle its audience. The film doesn’t try to build upon its slow start, choosing instead to slowly intensify a heavy sense of foreboding. This measured approach will inevitably alienate horror fans raised on a constant diet of jump-cut shocks and gory effects, and those who might also lack the patience to decipher archaic speech patterns delivered in a heavy Northern English accent. But those prepared to show a little patience will find themselves drawn into a fascinatingly dark and quietly horrific world which benefits from being set in an unenlightened and superstitious age which somehow makes the supernatural elements depicted in The VVitch more believable.
(Reviewed 11th May 2016)