Second Union

Second Union

Streaming Halloween Horror: The Witch

The Witch (two ‘Vs’ instead of one ‘W’ in the movie’s title) is a “New England Folktale” with dialogue spoken in old-sounding English. It’s meant to look dreary with a muted color scheme and as much de-saturation as can be afforded with an ArriRaw hard drive at 2.8K. This must be the kind of thing vinyl record lovers complain about when they hear their favorite songs played back digitally. The movie would play substantially better if shot on film, but since eight or nine small production companies financed the movie, we know money is tight. This is the 1600s and there seem to be actual witches, even as the family suspects a wolf. A baby is abducted and we see it sacrificed by a naked old woman. Crops won’t grow. The people live in fear. It’s not hard to make the leap to witches. An excommunicated family of settlers believe they are born from sin (as in Original Sin) and are, perhaps drawn to evil, or evil is drawn to them.

We spend most of our time in the movie with eldest daughter Thomasin (a very creepy Anya Taylor-Joy) as she observes her family being torn apart by fear. She takes brother Caleb into the woods and when their dog, Fowler, gives chase to a mangey rabbit, she falls from her bucking horse. Caleb vanishes but not before coming upon a beautiful woman who then abducts him. Caleb reappears the following rainy night, sans clothing. That’s a good way to catch pneumonia, young man! There are some interesting little character beats mixed in with the miasma. The younger children, Mercy and Jonas, carry on conversations with their billy goat, who they’ve named “Black Phillip.” Apparently, “Black Phillip” has the ability to divine and detect witches. The young man, Caleb, is fascinated by his sister’s breasts, and it’s weird. I don’t know what the movie is trying to tell me except that witches are real and people should stick with church.

There’s no real reason given why a witch would persecute Thomasin’s family. They have next-to-nothing and are in danger of losing what little they do have. It could be that the witch is just plain psychotic, but I prefer to have reasons. The family turns on her, suspecting and accusing her of witchcraft, which she denies. Thomasin throws her younger siblings under the bus, accusing them of being in league with the devil because of their games with “Black Phillip.” The movie is incredibly depressing. The saving grace of this murky affair is the mercifully short running time, but even at 90 minutes, the movie’s a bit of a slog to get through. Writer/director Robert Egger’s devotion to small details (costuming, dialogue, dreary New England) make it difficult to enjoy what could have been a fascinating story. The Witch is a fair movie with decent performances, but it’s too restrained. It’s almost made to be forgotten.

The Witch can be seen on Netflix.

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