Written by Bertie Bowen

Arts

Review: The Witch

Seventeenth century-set drama The Witch arrives in cinemas with a lot of buzz. We sent horror fan Bertie Bowen to check it out.

Spook and spell: Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) finds darkness lurking in the forest in The Witch.

Spook and spell: Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) finds darkness lurking in the forest in The Witch.

Set in 1630s in colonial New England, 60 years prior to the infamous Salem Witch trials, The Witch tells the tale of a family cast out of their village and left to fend for themselves in a desolate area of farmland close to an ominous forest.

From the opening scene, the language, thoughts and actions of every character is governed by their extreme Puritan beliefs. God dominates everyone and everything and themes of forgiveness and sin are the driving forces throughout.

The family is already struggling to survive alone, on the outskirts of society when the youngest child goes missing in strange circumstances. Grief, paranoia and suspicion ensue.

Robert Eggers’ film claims to be inspired by various historical accounts of witchcraft and folklore from the era and we are drawn into a tale and time depicting how hysteria and fear can create crazy beliefs such as satanic ritual, witches and black magic.

The music – stark, tuneless violins and female choral voices, rising to a crescendo of clashing, elongated notes – made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The lighting, a washed out grey, has an almost twilight quality to it, and as it was mostly filmed using natural light, this adds to the claustrophobic, lonely atmosphere.

Like all good horrors, we mostly see glimpses of implied evil; awkward camera angles, half-seen silhouettes and unfocused, shadowy impressions make sure our own imagination is alive. The few clear images of horror shown are truly disturbing.

the-witch-The oldest daughter, Thomasin (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), is on the cusp of womanhood and the film explores the age-old idea of female sexuality as a sin somehow connected to an unknown and evil power.

As the patriarchal figure (Ralph Ineson, who also eerily resembles Jesus) loses control, the female force grows, with or without his daughter intending it to.

But for me, the film really examines the human mind, its imagination, its fears and what happens when it is pushed to its limits. What is real and what is fantastic? And what comes first? Elements of The Witch made me think of Kubrick’s The Shining, of how a family, trapped, isolated, surrounded by vast wilderness and unanswerable questions is able to turn on each other so quickly.

Without giving away the ending, which comes after a climax of unsettling half-revelations and violence, I was left wondering if the moral of the story is that women, when pushed, can be truly evil beings after all. Maybe there is a witch in all of us?

@BertRumBow

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Written by Bertie Bowen

Stylist, writer and mother living in East London. A clompy shoed, curly haired, Radio 4 enthusiast. www.mothershoppers.com