The Witch movie full length review - Superstition and abandonment mar family's lives
Saw The Witch on Blu Ray rather than cinema as felt that the cinema's public setting would ruin a film which relied heavily on the right atmosphere in order to effectively tell the story.
I was right. For this film, you need silence. It is silence which lends this film its menace, rather than showy special effects.
The Witch is set in the New World of the Puritan fathers. The main family of this film are mother and father, eldest daughter, younger brother, twins and a baby, newly born. Having been cast out of their puritan community for going against the community's teachings, in some way, the father takes his family to leave on the edge of a dark wood. He builds enclosures for goats and sets about growing corn to feed his family. His family pray regularly and look to God for forgiveness of their sins regularly. They are in all senses of the phrase, God Fearing people.
Within this close and claustrophobic environment, tensions start to mount. The youngest member of the family disappears and is thought to be stolen by a creature in the woods who is seen as using the child for its nefarious ends. The baby is not seen again and with no idea of what happened to him. All this leads to the mother of the family (Katie Dickie, fresh from Game of Thrones) crying and accusing family members, mostly the eldest girl (Thomasina - played by Anya Taylor-Joy) of theft of a silver cup. Then there is the eldest boy, Caleb and his father going hunting in the woods looking for venison. They find a hare which is not killed and lose their dog in the process. More lies to the mother about the nature of their trip.
Thomasina is ordered to clean her brother's clothes at the river on the edge of the wood. She does this and notices her younger brother taking a interest in her body. The twins join them and start joking about there being a witch in the woods. Thomsina holds the little girl down stating that she is the witch and she has made a pact with the devil etc. More upset and shouting.
Naturally, things go from bad to worse. Caleb goes into the forest with his sister to find the family dog and she loses the only horse they have and Caleb finds the family dog dead with its entrails hanging out. He also discovers the woodland house of the 'witch', a seemingly young, beautiful woman who kisses him and 'bewitches' him. Thomasina discovers him after a terrible night and he is naked and feverish. He babbles deliriously, then dies. In that moment, Thomasina is accused of being a witch by the twins, however, she also tells them that the family's black billy-goat - called Black Philip has been talking to the twins. Their father locks all of them in the goat shed whilst he buries his son and considers going back to the plantation /community for help.
It is at this point, after much slow burn and build up that the film gains a greater pace. The mother 'sees' her precious dead children returned to her and 'breastfeeds' her lost baby. Unbeknown to her, a raven pecks at her breast, leaving it bloodied. The father then wakes up and goes to see how the children in the goat shed are. He finds the goat shed destroyed and the black goat running wild. The black goat then goads him repeatedly and painfully and he dies. Then the mother accuses Thomasina of sin and tries to kill her. Thomasina then kills her mother by stabbing.
There is nothing left in the farm for Thomasina. Her father is dead, her mother dead, her brother has died of fever (presumably) and its not known what has happened to the twins. It is at this point, that it is likely that Thomasina will die too of hunger, exposure or madness.
Thomasina withdraws to the goat shed following Black Philip. She asks Black Philip to speak to her as he did to the twins. Almost at the point of giving up, Black Philip answers and tells her how to get the things she wants - in this case the taste of butter (being properly fed) and a pretty dress (being a Puritan, wearing pretty dresses was considered vain and sinful). Black Philip tells her to remove her clothing (a bit of a cliché) and sign the book offered (presumably, offering her soul to the devil in exchange for a better life - again a cliché). He also helps her to sign it.
This is at the point where the film enters superstitious nonsense territory. I shall not disclose any more of that as it belongs to the realms of nonsense in the vein of Denis Wheatley Hammer House of Horror film. It is the only part of the film which let it down, unfortunately.
If you watch this film as an attempt to portray witchcraft in a realistic light, I wouldn't bother. You ain't going to find that here.
As a fictional account in which superstition, isolation and religious mania can play havoc with the mind, it excels in that nicely. Lots of symbolism abounds in this film, from ravens, goats, hares and the use of colour within the forest (the 'witch' has a red cloak). Much of the symbolism is about suppressed lust having no outlet within a religious household. The presence of the 'witch' as an older woman naked and milking one of the goats is loaded with metaphor and symbolism.
It is not a particularly horrific film. There are some shocks and surprises but nothing really jumpy, just a slow burn.