Sundance Review: The Witch
It's no secret to long-time readers of my site that I'm a big fan of the horror genre (if done well that is.) I wasn't completely sure what I was getting myself into when I decided on the spur of the moment to get a ticket to this movie. Since it was premiering in the drama category as opposed to the special horror section, the water was muddied in trying to classify what The Witch was. Would this end up being a historical horror film like I secretly hoped? Or was it merely a psychological period piece drama? On the one hand, a name like The Witch had to promise a scare right? The promo photos and the setting of puritanical New England had me very encouraged. But other than that there wasn't much for me to go off of. So what exactly was it? Well, your mileage may vary, but personally, I consider anything with [SPOILER] possessions, infant sacrifices or communications with Satan [/END SPOILER] to be firmly rooted in the horror genre.
So let's get one thing straight. This movie is MESSED. There were more "what the? why... howwww.. um... OH THE HUMANITY" moments than I can count (and sadly I was by myself so I couldn't share such wonderful moments with the ones I love...instead I settled for a really funny old couple next to me.) This movie was... well evil. In that horror genre way where I kind of love it but it freaks me out at the same time. It gave me everything I hoped for in utilizing its setting (after all I'm always lamenting that there aren't more Salem witch trial-focused movies..) and yet managed to completely surprise me in how far it was willing to take its themes.
That's not to say all of the risks worked. Two instances, in particular, that were meant to be huge gasp moments I found to be kind of humorously amusing. One involves a bird and the other involves a random shapeshift. The first one especially is never fully explained either.. but I guess we can come up with our own conclusions. To me, neither moment builds up to as much as was hoped... but there are plenty of other scenes to make up for that. And what makes the really effective scenes work is no doubt the suffocatingly freaky music. Even in the beginning when the action hasn't happened yet that score is ever-present and just makes you feel unsettled. That feeling basically never lets up. There are no big name stars in The Witch, but the story draws you in so much that you easily forget about that. It doesn't hurt that everyone gives pretty good performances too. Also, I'm not sure if this is to the film's strength of detriment...but it features two of the most annoying children characters I can even recall. Tonally this is a very moody film from the cinematography, performances, the general look, and that spooky score. Whether or not you find this movie to actually be scary depends on your horror genre tastes. There's not exactly torture porn in this film or anything... but it has its own messed up stuff. One thing is for sure: this film is gonna be a must for Halloween viewing. RATING: 9/10