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“The Witch” seeks to be the next small scale horror success story

the witch
While the studio system has more or less given up on truly attempting to put out thought provoking horror films, the independent circuit has really picked up the slack over the past handful of years. As many of you know, I raved often last year about It Follows, with many being huge fans of The Babadook the year before that. This year, we’re getting a top tier title early, as Robert Eggers’ movie The Witch is coming to theaters this week. Truly a horse of a different color, this is likely to do very well, finding a potential sweet spot between period character study and overt fright flick. Ever since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, it’s been building a solid core of strong reviews and fandom, so don’t expect this one to disappear quickly.

The film is a period piece set in 1600’s New England, in the lead up to what would eventually become the Salem Witch Trials. Patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) has seen his family all but banished to the woods for their religious beliefs. There, William, along with his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), as well as children Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), Mercy (Ellie Grainger), Jonas (Lucas Dawson), and a newborn baby struggle to survive. Then, the child disappears and we see that it’s potentially been sacrificed by a witch. As the family’s faith suggests the worst, we see both the possibility that a witch is terrorizing them as well as potentially that religious fundamentalism is as much to blame. Eggers writes and directs, while the rest of the cast includes Bathsheba Garnett, Julian Richings, Sarah Stephens, and more. The actors and actresses are all very committed, though Eggers is truly the one who ends up being the star.

If there’s one thing to really praise about the movie, it’s the direction by Eggers. His writing is decent yet unspectacular, but the filmmaking is really something to behold. The production values are incredible, especially considering what has to be a limited budget. From the cinematography to the score to the production design, it’s all top notch. Eggers has an attention to period detail that you really have to see to believe. He doesn’t shy away from gory material, but this is more of a disturbing horror film than a terrifying one. That’s not a knock, mind you, just a simple statement about what The Witch brings to the table. There’s shocks, but it has more on its mind than that.

Obviously considering the genre, it’ll be a real uphill battle for The Witch to get any sort of awards attention. An enterprising campaign could be put forward in Best Picture, Best Director (Eggers), Best Actor (Ineson), Best Actress (Taylor-Joy), Best Original Screenplay (Eggers), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Original Score. Except for maybe Production Design, it’s all a pipe dream, essentially. That being said, the Gotham Awards or more likely the Independent Spirit Awards could very well take a shine to this one. They nominated It Follows at the impending Spirit Awards, so it certainly could be on the table. Time will tell there, of course.

On Friday, The Witch will begin its theatrical run, hoping to be not just a successful (critically and financially) scary movie, but a true thought provoking film as well. If nothing else, Eggers is quickly establishing himself as a director to watch. I highly recommend checking this flick out, as it’s way more than meets the eye. As long as you don’t have a particularly low tolerance for the horror genre, you should really dig this. It’s not perfect, but it’s another strong start to the year that is 2016 so far. Give it a shot and see what you wind up thinking about it…

Be sure to check out The Witch, in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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