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Blu-ray Review: The Witch

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The VVitch: A New-England Folk Tale”, hereafter just “The Witch”, is written and directed by Robert Eggers. This is Eggers first full-length feature after predominantly being a production designer until now. And it shows. In a good way. The Witch is a measured and immaculate piece of film-making, with attention obviously lavished upon every element of its production. Costuming, sets, props, even diction and language – Eggers spent five years researching and perfecting these things and has created a truly masterful film on his first go.

Set in the 1630s, The Witch centres around a Puritan family living in isolation on the edge of a wood. Ejected from a safe compound by the rest of the Puritans for being too devout, William (Ralph Ineson, Kingsman: The Secret Service) takes his family – a wife, son, daughter, newborn baby, and creepy twins – into the wilderness, insisting in a voice of pure gravel that “All will be well”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Eldest daughter Thomasin (relative newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy) is babysitting at the border of the forest one morning when the babe up and vanishes mid-peekaboo. Distraught, William takes son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) into the woods looking for the infant but find nothing. His wife, (Kate Dickie, Game of Thrones) is inconsolable and blames Thomasin for her heart-rending loss.

Thomasin’s stock plummets even lower following a misjudged threat during an argument with the twins where she pretends to be “the witch in the wood” to scare them. This attempt to shush a spoiled child plants a seed that is then fed over the course of the film, growing into a thorny vine that tightens around the family, fraying and breaking their tempers and tolerances, and not turning them against each other – but one by one – turning them on the free-spirited Thomasin.

The twins swear that Black Phillip, a charcoal billy goat, has told them that Thomasin is a witch and seemingly coincidental events occurring in her presence unfortunately reinforce this. The whole family are already guilt-ridden, and their misplaced beliefs and jealousies fester until they find a patsy as an outlet. Taylor-Joy’s performance is spell-binding, an innocent girl on the cusp of womanhood, not only having to struggle with her own puberty, but an un-protective father, mother jealous of her youth, brother who lusts after her, and twins that want her sacrificed.

The horror is one of primal fear, isolation, abandonment, and wrongful condemnation by those you love. There are no cheap tricks or jump scares here – just abject psychological terror. The Witch is incredibly well sound-designed, from the creaking branches of the claustrophobically closely thicketed wood to a nerves-smashing soundtrack by Mark Korven (Cube), that consists of screeching strings, and a wailing choir.

The film’s stubborn refusal to be pinned down is gloriously unnerving, largely staying ambiguous as to whether there is a supernatural element or not. This leaves you always on edge and actually terrified of what The Witch will cut to next. It feels like it could go, or end up, anywhere, before unleashing a satisfying, satanic, spine-crumpling resolution of madness and carnage.

5-out-of-5

The Witch is now out on Blu-ray and DVD.

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