The Witch (2016)
Written & Directed by Robert Eggers
I can appreciate that director, Robert Eggers wanted to stay close to the source material from which his research stemmed. Early American folklore, settlers journals, court documents and town records were combined to form a story about a family in Puritan New England who were expelled from their community due to religious differences and had to face the harsh wilderness of the new world alone. The film was beautifully shot and depicted the untamed country in all its splendor and gritty detail. It was a hard life for settlers in America and without the support of the community it was nearly impossible to survive.
When the father faces failures in crops and hunting, his faith in God is questioned and he can only assume that the Lord has abandoned him and his family due to the wages of sin. The result of God’s departure from the family’s side results in the presence of evil invading their homestead in the form of a witch in the woods and the devil speaking directly to the children through a goat. The film stays so close to the family’s ‘good vs. evil’ beliefs that the outcome is disheartening and unnerving. The family turns upon each other and accuse each other of being in league with the devil.
The problem with the film is the Old English dialogue made it difficult to follow. It was so distracting as me and my wife had to conference after each line of speaking to decipher what had transpired. It drained some of the enjoyment of watching the film.
I would recommend waiting until the film is on bluray or DVD so you can turn on the subtitles for easier understanding of the dialogue. I was unsure about some events that transpired until I got home and looked up the plot points to confirm I had it right. I usually don’t mind some old English dialect such as is evident in A Christmas Carol (1956, with Alistair Sims). However this films dialect, completely authentic, (which I appreciate the effort in writing and the actors acting of it) just hindered the flow of the film.
I have to say that living through Hurricane Sandy, with no heat and electric for a few weeks allowed me to empathize quickly with this families plight. It was difficult for settlers to keep a home warm and keep food on the table through the winter months. The family looks to the paternal leadership for the answers. However the father’s zealotry toward his faith is also what causes the family to crack thus fulfilling the devil’s desire to break the bonds of love. The film is mostly a survival drama with the heavy hand of superstition seen as something real through the eyes of the family. Up until the last half hour, everything that happens to the family could be explained as natural events with the blame assigned to their religious and superstitious beliefs. Even the boy emerging from the forest naked can be explained, he was ill with a fever and probably undressed himself.
(end of spoilers)
I think the pay off was big in the end and I quite enjoyed it. If you are expecting a standard horror movie you will be disappointed. However the family struggle in this film results in sheer terror for them and if you can put yourself in their shoes, in their time, it is successful in creating a depiction of real life horror.
Wonderful imagery and rural drama but trying to decipher what the characters were saying was a distraction.
I give it 3.9 wicked witchery wails on the goat-faced demigod scale of blasphemous benefactors.