The Witch Movie Review

Max Bowman, Writer

Tension is a tricky thing to pinpoint, and even harder to accomplish. Tension, in my opinion, is the overall gravity of the situation. It dictates how much impact certain scenes will hold; segments where literally nothing is happening can be become nail biting if a certain level of tension is obtained. Now, if someone were to stretch eight or so disturbing scenes out for an hour and a half, would that be enough for tension? Therein lies the achilles heel in the film The Witch.
One thing you’ll notice immediately starting The Witch is its authenticity to the time period. The Witch represents colonial times as authentically one could believe possible. Which is a shame as colonial times aren’t inherently interesting. Everyone at that time wore gray clothes and lived in drab dirty houses; fun was off the table as everyone’s number one priority in their free time was to pray and/or study the bible. A bunch of God fearing pilgrims in the forest just doesn’t make for an interesting setting, but if this time-period interests you in any way, you’ll be glad to know that it completely nails it. The film follows a very devout family who after having a religious dispute with the village, decides to move away and live of the land, free to worship their own way. When the oldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), is playing peekaboo with her newborn brother, Samuel, something takes him and disappears with Samuel into the forest. Thus begins the family’s downward spiral as an evil presence in the forest (hint: it’s in the title) starts to take over their lives.

Flash forward a couple of days and the family is quite clearly devastated. The mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) constantly prays for her lost son and holds resentment towards her daughter for losing him. William (Ralph Ineson), the father, is more preoccupied with how he’s going to feed his family due to crops failing and lack of livestock, while Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) undergoes a questioning of faith due to the fact that Samuel was never baptized, and thus would be burning in hell. The film switches perspectives more often than not though if I had to pick a main character it would have to be Thomasin. While the father may take up more screen time, the daughter fills in the role of bland protagonist for the viewer to project themself on. The thing is though none of the characters are actually likeable. A problem I had with characters is that towards the end of the movie, each character had demonstrated they were capable of some act of evil. Being already bland characters, their dark sides overshadowed everything else making it hard to sympathize or care for them. This goes back to tension. A character is stalked by a dark presence in the woods. This alone carries no tension, however if we cared about them or were rooting for their survival in any way, the scene would become tremendously more terrifying. The movie so far has failed in its setting and characters so it’s up to the moment to moment scenes to carry the film. Unfortunately…

Halfway through the movie I started to draw up parallels with the film Antichrist. Antichrist features morally misaligned characters who retreat to a cabin in the woods when all the sudden ominous things start happening, along with christian symbolism and around eight disturbing scenes spread out over one and a half hours. So I believe the comparison to be quite fair. While the eight or so scenes in Antichrist are indeed gross, they also manage to build tension and have this certain intelligence to them, something The Witch is lacking. The reason they are able to build tension, is the lack of certainty surrounding them. You know that something is wrong, but what it is you have no idea. It is this uncertainty and feeling that something is clearly wrong that is wholeheartedly evil that eats away at your skin; The Witch has none of this prowess because you know what’s going on, there is no uncertainty, just a gross feeling and a pit at the bottom of your stomach. Not to mention that the setup for most of the reveals is a long shot of a shocked character staring back at the audience, (which at that point the only way it can make any sort of impact is by showing something disgusting) and then showing something pretty disgusting.

The Witch is by no means a bad movie. In fact just about every other review on the internet is just short of calling it a masterpiece, and it’s a shame because I want to like this film. I can see the intelligence behind it and I realize the dedication and painstaking work dedicated to  attention of detail. But at the end of the day, I just left the theater bored and grossed out.