I finally saw Robert Eggers‘ The Witch last night, nearly a year after it premiered at Sundance 2015. It’s easily the most unsettling and sophisticated nightmare film since The Babadook. That’s a roundabout way of saying that the dolts who pay to see the usual horror bullshit will probably avoid it to some extent. Insensitive, all-but-clueless people tend to favor insensitive, all-but-clueless movies, and I’m sorry but The Witch is mostly too good for them — too subterranean, too otherworldly, too scrupulous in its avoidance of cliches. And because it goes for chills and creeps rather than shock and gore. This is the fate of all exceptional, extra-good horror flicks — they must suffer rejection by morons. Just ask Jennifer Kent.
This little creeper (which was projected last night at a 1.66:1 aspect ratio!) is set on an isolated farm in 17th Century New England, when the lore of witches and sorcery was at an all-time high. I was seriously impressed by the historical authenticity and the complete submission to the superstitious mythology of evil in the early 1600s and the panicky mindset of those God-fearing Puritans who completely bought the notion that demonic evil was absolutely manifest and waiting in the thicket. And I was entranced by Eggers’ slowburn strategy, which finally pays off in spades during the final 25 to 30 minutes. And I was fascinated at the allusions to sexuality as a kind of budding demon seed.
The focus is on a farming family of seven — a strong, devout father with a deep resonant voice (Ralph Ineson), a wiry, agitated, asexual mother with a mostly impenetrable accent (Kate Dickie), an intelligent and very hot mid-teen daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy), a younger brother disturbed by sensual stirrings (Harvey Scrimshaw), two toddlers (Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson) and an infant — and one of the most fearsome and persistent threats, never acted upon or spoken of but constantly flowing in the blood, is the animal energy of sex.
The basic shot is that witchery is beyond vile. It has no decency, respects no bounds. God offers zero protection to a family unlucky enough to be living near a coven of witches and warlocks, residing a mile into the woods. Everyone is fucking toast. An infant will be used for the foulest of rituals, thoughts of sibling sexuality will slither and poke, crows will pick at mother’s breasts, the horns of goats will become a good deal more than just metaphors for twin erections. The Witch doesn’t kowtow to your basic 21st Century horror bullshit — its immersion in the early 1600s is absolute.
I’m very much looking forward to the subtitle option when the Bluray comes out. Ineson, blessed with one of those magnificent deep voices with a timbre that can peel wallpaper, was the only one I fully understood on a line-for-line basis. To my ears everyone else spoke 17th-Century dithah-moundah-maaaysee-whatsah. Taylor-Joy, an actress-model who’s not quite 20 and was more like 18 when The Witch was shot in late ’14 or early ’15, performs a scene of erotic possession at the very end that matches Mia Farrow‘s satanic mating scene in Rosemary’s Baby — it’s really something to see.
A24 will open The Witch theatrically on 2.19. It was reported last year that DirecTV Cinema will stream it a month before the opening, or starting today. But damned if I could find this confirmed on the DirecTV site so maybe not.