A family gets excommunicated from their community and forced out to the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves. When they first arrive, they look up to the almighty for the strength to tame the land. The family members should be looking into a mirror for such a request, but try telling them that.
THE WITCH is the story of this exiled family and the terror inflicted upon them. While tending to her baby brother, the eldest sibling Thomasin (Anna Taylor-Joy) loses sight of him. He is never returned and presumed dead. Soon her younger sibling Caleb likewise goes missing, though he is mercifully returned…even if he isn’t himself. Her twin siblings suggest that the disappearances are the work of a witch, and furthermore that Thomasin is that witch.
She pleads innocent with her parents, but as strange events continue and the bodies keep piling up, Thomasin seems more and more likely to be this mysterious witch that we keep catching glimpses of…even if she’d have us believe otherwise.
There’s always been something deeply unsettling about darkness in the face of faith. Perhaps it’s because it contradicts of what anyone raised in a family of faith is raised to believe, or perhaps it’s because it seems to give a vessel to entities that tare seemingly impervious to being killed once and for all. Whatever the reason for the unsettling feeling, THE WITCH knows how to tap into it and slowly stoke the demonic fire until it has finally incinerated everything good in this movie. It knows that we want to believe in the virtuous – the pious and humble who will vanquish dark forces with their belief in all that is good and holy. THE WITCH preys on that belief, leaving us gutted that “the good” could be slain so easily.
I fear that THE WITCH may not work for everybody because of that old adage that “it’s not scary”. Of course, horror is like humour – it either works on you or it doesn’t. What I can say to that end is that the horror in THE WITCH isn’t trying to frighten its audience with jolts, instead it wants to unnerve them with stark, bleak imagery and ideas. It often comes back to the imagery of blood, but not in a violent way. Every crimson drop comes a a harbinger of greater evil to follow; so less an effect and more of a cause.
It’s also the lack of understanding that it so frightening in this film. As events unfold, piles of evidence mount that should be cause for alarm for William and his family. Instead, they choose not to believe their eyes and their brains, but continue to lead with their guts and their souls, which I’m sorry to say, seem impervious to forensic evidence. But therein lays the rub; not being believed when all signs point to one’s innocence is a truly frightening idea.
THE WITCH wants us to find some light in our darkness, which might well be easier said than done. It’s not a call to prayer so much as it is a call to reason, wanting us to look to ourselves for strength in the face of evil. This isn’t a film that will scare everyone, but to those who see blind faith as something that should be feared just as much as demonic possession, it will be truly terrifying.