Writer/director Robert Eggers’ debut film The Witch is a beautifully constructed work with breathtaking chiaroscuro cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, using muted colours evoking the paintings of artists such as Delacroix and Caravaggio. Shot in northern Ontario in ashen, almost black and white palette at times, and painted in natural light with flashes of red blood as the only bright spots, it creates a superbly powerful visual effect.
Evocative sound effects produce an increasing tension, at points reminding of the surreal despair of the cult classic Eraserhead. The musical score by Mark Korven is outstanding, including the Swedish nyckelharpa instrument and a richly terrifying vocal choir.
The Witch received great acclaim at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and won the Best Director prize in the US Narrative Competition. A brilliantly crafted account of a god-fearing New England family of puritans banished from their community because of their extreme religious views, The Witch is a terrifying tale of a family’s psychological torment in a battle between good and evil; the struggle between innocence and evil is a well-portrayed constant. A witch who appears as a beautiful siren in a Red Riding Hood cape, the two small children who have been conversing with a horned goat, the strict puritan father who has lied and deceived. The film’s pervading theme is a fear that evil will win. Their teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the primary suspect. Her ethereal innocence is juxtaposed with the perceived wickedness around her, in the form of a satanic goat, images of a vile, terrifying witch who has butchered their baby, and her brother’s furtive, lustful gazes. Taking place decades before the 1692 Salem witch trials, in which religious beliefs became hysteria, it is nevertheless reminiscent of the film The Crucible.
The actors are terrific and focused in their conviction, particularly Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, whose angelic, luminous face and fierce performance contrast with the austerity surrounding her. The manner of speech is very authentic to the period and Roger Eggers’ dialogue is based on historical records. Though it is a dialogue that is too slow and archaic to make The Witch a classic horror film, it is in fact groundbreaking for its genre.
The Witch is released nationwide on 11th March 2016.
Watch the trailer for The Witch here: