Verdict: “The Witch” is one of the best, most psychologically striking horror movies of recent times.
When a writer like Stephen King, praised for his horror and supernatural fiction, claims to have been “scared the hell out of” during a movie, chances are you should run to your local theatre right away. The movie in question, “The Witch,” deserves the praise.
“The Witch” fascinates. It grabs you and never lets go. And when it’s over, there is the intense sensation that you must see it again, that each frame has a mystery left to uncover. While you know the story, you still want to know it further.
This is the story of a New England farmer, who after threatened of being excluded from the church, takes his family away from the colonial plantation. Shortly after the family settles on a remote plot of land, strange occurrences begin happening with the five children of the family and the animals in the barn.
“The Witch” isn’t a jump-scare film, and nobody should go watch it with this expectation. However, it’s also one movie that can and probably instill a fear in you that lasts much longer than a jump scare. The story is told plainly, just as if someone were to tell you the folktales the film is based on.
As the supernatural begins invading this family, such as a child who seems possessed, the movie gains a chilling tone, where what’s scary isn’t what the screen shows, but what it hides.
The photography of “The Witch” is a great component for the building of this atmosphere. The camera’s movement capture this presence. In several scenes, the camera moves slowly towards the back of the characters, not seeking to surprise them, but instead taking over their souls little by little. When the camera is static, there is a great wilderness around characters. They are small on frame, unable to fight it. Night scenes are not lit for us to see everything. They are lit for us to see just enough.
There are not many actors in “The Witch.” We are constantly confined to this family of seven, and the movie doesn’t let us escape to catch our breath even for a second. As the story moves forward, we are increasingly cornered. We might wish to turn away, but the suspense is too great and keeps our eyes on the screen.
Although all performances are top notch, it’s impossible not to note the incredible monologue of the young, unknown actor Harvey Scrimshaw. His monologue comes at the turning point of the film, and brilliantly carries all the built up tension of the last hour. The talent Scrimshaw brings to the screen only enlightens even more one of the greatest horror stories of recent times.
Editing is another strong point in “The Witch.” Debut writer and director Roger Eggers isn’t afraid to let his images stay put on screen, whether is the chariot disappearing slowly into the forest or a character facing the great wildness. This editing choice is extremely appropriate for “The Witch.” The film seems to transport you out of your theatre seat to a conversation in front of a bonfire, where your company is a masterful storyteller.
To receive the praise of Stephen King is an accomplishment to anyone working in fiction. To receive this praise in a debut work is a tremendous achievement and honor. Does “The Witch” lives up to King’s tweet? In much less than 140 characters: yes, absolutely.