Film review: THE WITCH: A NEW ENGLAND FOLKTALE, from ‘Built For Speed’

With its distinctive aesthetic style, The Witch: A New England Folktale is one of the more striking looking horror films of recent times. A patchy script, however, may leave eager horror fans dissatisfied.

The story sees a family of 17th century pilgrims in New England banished to the wilderness when their overly pious father William (Ralph Ineson) angers the local authorities with his righteous proclamations. Desperately struggling to establish a farm on the edge of a very creepy looking forest, the family, which includes wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), two littlies and a baby are soon beset by mysterious and disturbing occurrences that may be the work of a witch (Bathsheeba Garnett) who lurks in the forest.

The film mostly eschews the kind of jump scares that have characterised modern horror films such as the Paranormal Activity series, instead emphasising dark, brooding atmospherics and a creeping sense of menace. Director Robert Eggers and Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke achieve this mood through their superb use of natural light which recalls Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. They also create some stunning, luminous compositions that evoke paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. In addition, the film magnifies the sense of a lurking threat through its terrific sound design which is filled with potent stabs of music and strange peripheral noises.

While The Witch looks and sounds terrific, it occasionally loses its grip on the audience because the story lacks focus and momentum. The film is more like a series of fragments rather than a coherent narrative. It doesn’t help that the ‘ye olde’ English in which the characters speak tends to distance them from the audience.

Also, the film places too much emphasis on the tension and conflict the strange events create within the family which results in characters endlessly bickering, whining and shrieking at each other.

Is The Witch scary? There are a few unnerving and even shocking set-pieces but this film is too slow moving and dialogue heavy to be really scary.

The Witch is a very impressive aesthetic experiment but not an entirely convincing horror film.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Horror.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Robert Eggers.

Release date: 17th March 2016.

Running time: 93 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show

 

 

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