The Witch is haunting and visceral. The reviewer who wrote that “it feels like we’re watching something…we should not be seeing” was absolutely right. It is so real that by the end one feels complicit in the events that just happened, despite it being a fiction. It is the visual representation of sin, of taint, of the contamination that lives in all of our souls. It is a mirror which shows us the evil that wears many faces, the horrible things we commit upon ourselves.
There are two main ways The Witch is so disturbing. First, there is the portrayal of the witch, i.e. the supernatural. This is but a small fraction of the film, both runtime and impetus. The second is the portrayal of the family. They are extremely pious, one of the many who came to the new world looking to escape the religious persecution back in England. They are religious in a way that is as foreign to us today as the new land was to them. At the opening they are cast out from their settlement because of William’s (Ralph Ineson), the father and head of the house, pride in his way of seeing his faith. Their faith is as harsh and unforgiving as the environment into which they are exiled.
So, once we see the black arts practiced in the dark woods, we wish we had not. While overpowering, those parts are thankfully short. Then comes the slow demise of the family. It is heart breaking because it is their faith, their very core which has allowed them to survive so far, that which should be their salvation, that turns them against one another and ultimately destroys them. It is hard to tell which is worse. Like life, it is more of the lesser of two evils than a clear delineation.
The look of the film is enchanting, almost as if the film itself was affected by the malevolence. All the colors are washed out and stark. All except for the blood. Though there is not much, the blood is bright red, vivid. The one vitality in this bleak setting and ironically we only see it when someone is dying. It is another perversion of the Christian faith. The blood of Christ saved. Here it damns.
There is one area where film is lacking, and that is in the elocution of the dialogue. The Witch would benefit from the use of subtitles. The problem is the dialogue is 1600s Puritan English (with British accent), and with many Biblical quotes. At times the delivery sounds mush mouthed. While beautifully executed by the actors, it was hard following some of what they were saying. I had to reconstruct the sentences from a couple words I could understand. Unfortunately, this took me out of the otherwise vise-like grip of the movie.
Though there is supernatural powers, this is more of a psychological horror. It moves along slowly, a rotting from within each character, within the family, and within the world. It ultimately leaves you feeling unclean. By watching you have signed Black Phillip’s book. As the end credits roll you are transformed, naked and feral and damned, and in need of confession.
For horror fans The Witch is magnificently horrible.