We’re celebrating our new Horror Award with a series of articles about our favorite films and TV shows in horror. Find out what scares us the most… and what we’re looking for from a horror film! First up: THE WITCH…
This article contains mild spoilers.
There’s no doubt that THE WITCH was pretty polarizing. Despite great critical reviews, it didn’t fly quite so well with audiences, broomstick or no broomstick. People didn’t seem quite sure what to make of it.
It’s hardly surprising. Most audiences these days expect to see certain things in their horror films, and THE WITCH doesn’t have any of those things. It spurns jump scares and serial killers for a slow-burn story of tortured madness.
For those of you who haven’t seen the film, it tells the story of a family of Christian settlers in New England in the 1600s. Banished from their colony, they try to set up their own farm – only to find themselves battling evil forces both within and without. As their crops die and strange things start to happen, there is only one explanation: witchcraft.
The witchcraft in the film isn’t the kind you’ll find in HARRY POTTER, either. There are no afternoons falling asleep in History of Magic class or hoping that your wand doesn’t backfire when you’re turning a cat into a teapot (for some reason). The witchcraft here is the kind where the devil gets involved.
Yikes. If that’s not a good reason to be scared, we don’t know what is.
THE WITCH may not be a film for general audiences, but it’s a fantastic one nonetheless. Apart from the great acting, haunting cinematography, and tight directing, we think this is a script worthy of note.
Apart from capturing the tone and style of speech in the 1600s (there are “thee”s and “thou”s aplenty), writer-director Robert Eggers knows exactly how to ratchet the tension as highly as possible. There may not be much action in the film, but it doesn’t need it. What makes the horror genre really effective isn’t killing off as many people as possible (although plenty films try this approach) – it’s the suspense before the kill.
And THE WITCH comes with bucket loads of suspense. Often, it’s what it doesn’t show us that is most terrifying. The uncertainty that hangs over the whole story keeps us on the edge of our seats.
That same uncertainty eventually drives the family to madness. It’s never clear who or what is responsible for what is happening to their farm. It’s often even unclear whether there really is any witchcraft involved or whether it’s all in their heads.
It’s the not knowing that make THE WITCH so effective. We are constantly kept in the dark about what’s going on, uncertain of where to look or what to think. And because of that, it’s impossible to tell what’s going to happen next.
THE WITCH definitely isn’t a film for everyone. It’s a slower burn than most modern horror films, and its content – touching on madness, religious belief, and the devil – may prove too much for some people.
But it’s definitely horrifying, and that makes it worthy of talking about.
It also makes you understand how people in the 1600s really viewed witchcraft, and why they feared it so much. If that’s not a good reason to celebrate this film, we don’t know what is.
Feeling inspired by reading about THE WITCH? Think you’ve got something to rival it and want us to read it? The WriteMovies Horror Award 2019 is now open for submissions…