In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s a ludicrous story, but when set amongst a world that seems so tangible and tactile, even the craziest aspects take on a terrifying reality.”
“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”
There are certain genres that I have zero interest in. And horror is probably at the top of that list. There was a brief time as a tween and early teen where I loved the thrill of shock and gore, but that phase in my movie watching life was fleeting and long ago. These days, it takes a lot of praise from a lot of critics for a horror movie to make it onto my radar. It has to be lauded as something monumentally new, different and interesting for it to make its way onto my list of movies to see. After months of critical praise following festival screenings last year, and weeks of audience praise after its wide release this year, the intrigue got to be too much, and despite my lack of interest in the genre, I had to see The Witch.
A few decades before the famous witch hunts in Salem, the puritans of New England are already on a condemnation jag, banishing William (Ralph Inseson) and his family, for the unforgiveable crime of prideful conceit. With his wife (Kate Dickie as Katherine), late teenaged daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin), early teenaged son (Harvey Scrimshaw as Caleb) and young twins (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson as Mercy and Jona respectively), William begins farming on the edge of a foreboding woodland.
Soon after, Katherine gives birth to a fifth child, Samuel. One day, Thamosin is playing peekaboo with the baby near the woods when he suddenly disappears. It’s revealed to the audience that a witch has kidnapped and killed Samuel, but the family only has suspicion and fear to go on. While Katherine stays at home, praying in sadness and despair, she begins to blame her eldest child for the loss of her youngest. When Thomasin and Caleb go hunting in the woods, with only Thomasin returning, the fear of the witch grows, as does suspicion within the family.
Apparently writer and director Robert Eggers was very exact in every single detail in making The Witch as historically accurate as possible. I heard one story about bringing in America’s last roof thatcher to work on authentic sets made with authentic tools and methods. And the dialogue is full of “thou” and “thee”, all delivered with that kind of ye olde repression that seems so apt for a story about the same kind of people who would also inspire The Crucible. I have no idea how accurate any of this stuff actually is, and I don’t care. What I do care about is how effective it all is in building the dread, suspense and fear of these people and their predicament.
A line like “Dost thou understand my English tongue? Answer me”, would could feel supremely corny and laid on a way too thick, if it wasn’t surrounded by a the (apparently) period perfect buildings, clothing, tools and farming methods of the day. It’s a ludicrous story, but when set amongst a world that seems so tangible and tactile, even the craziest aspects take on a terrifying reality. The Witch is the kind of horror that never needs to resort to shock or gore for impact. A few short moments of that stuff exist, but they in no way compare to the terror generated by what the movie doesn’t show us.