Long Reads/Series Marie vs. Horror

Marie vs. Horror #12: The Witch (2016)

Marie vs. Horror

Marie let Twitter decide one of the films which would be part of this season, and Robert Eggars’ New England folk tale won out. What did she think of the choice made for her?

A family is cast out of their village because – well, something to do with the father’s brand of religious beliefs; it’s not that clear really.

Setting up a new home on the edge of a spooky-looking forest, the family first suffers the strange and tragic disappearance of the baby, followed by what I would describe as a run of bad luck but which others may interpret as a string of cursed events.

After breaking bread together one evening things then begin to get spookier (rather than scarier), with family relationships stretched to breaking point, mistrust rife, and a rather aggressive black goat making his presence felt. There’s also a whiff of female jealousy between mother and daughter which is not fully explored but which is hinted at, just to make things a little more awkward.

The images of daytime using only natural light are beautifully subdued, and many of the night time scenes shot using candlelight invoke Rembrandt with the flickering light focussing on faces.

The Witch didn’t scare me, but it was definitely eerie and unnerving on occasion. For me, this was due to a combination of factors: firstly, the very effective use of music and voices, creating a dissonance which supports the starkness and drab colours of the images. Secondly, the language used by the family – taken from authentic 17thcentury documents, it underlines the historical setting and beliefs of the time. And finally, the fact that trials of ‘witches’ were a real thing and that, even if this particular story has a supernatural element, the suspicion and mistrust reflected actual events at the time.

There’s a very claustrophobic feel to The Witch, with one family at the mercy of their environment, and the fact that it’s mostly self-inflicted. There’s no contact from outside their farmstead and so as an audience we have no balance as to what the family believes is happening to them. And for the most part I enjoyed the atmosphere being built. I can also see that the folk tale would have been incredibly powerful 400 years ago.

I’m just not totally sure that the ending worked for me. The ambiguity over the identity of the eponymous witch had been a plus point for the majority of the film, but once Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) was left on her own, it all got a bit silly – almost like we were being given too much information.

But thank you Twitter for picking out this one for me, it was a good choice!

Next Week’s edition will be the season finale which Marie is taking a little trip to a place called Busan…

Click here to catch up on all the Marie vs. Horror columns here!

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