The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015)
A year after debuting at Sundance, Robert Eggers’s debut film The Witch finally made it to theaters. I have a complicated relationship with horror films. I love them when they are great, but can’t stand them otherwise. I’ve been hearing enough great things about this one for months, so I was excited to give it a try.
This film was technically brilliant. The cinematography was gorgeous, specifically the shots in the woods with the ominous darkness. The camera moved deliberately, holding shots as necessary to build appropriate tension. The camera work was mirrored with and equally if not more impressive score. Taking ques from 2001 and the more recent masterpiece for Under the Skin, Mark Korven’s understanding of mood was the highlight of the film for me.
The other elements of The Witch didn’t impress me as much. I found the acting to be perfectly serviceable, but nothing took my breath away. Anya Taylor-Joy was the high point as Tomasin, but the rest of the cast was just forgettable. The screenplay was another mixed bag for me. I thought Eggers’s use of silence was superb; it built an amazingly tense mood which led into some genuinely frightening moments. However, there were major story elements, including the ending, that fell a little flat.
The question that I’ve been wrestling with since leaving the theater is what’s my feeling on the film as a whole? Still to this point, I’m having trouble reconciling the screenplay and acting with the technical film. Technically, my default comparison for The Witch is to Under the Skin. While it doesn’t live up to Under the Skin, the mere fact that it’s worth comparing to one of the best technical films of the decade speaks wonders in its favor. And yet, I feel like I’ve forgotten the majority of the story at this point; it left no lasting impression.
Misgivings aside, the best guidance I have on my feels is that I keep recommending it to people. It’s a palatable enough film that exemplifies how good horror films can be that I want it to be seen. Not only do I recommend it, but I want to see it again when it comes out on home video. I feel the need to examine it again for the love of the craft.