Up and coming film director Robert Eggers has been getting much praise for his debut film, The Witch, a horror film with lots of buzz at Sundance. The Witch bills itself as a 17th-century New England folk tale with dialogue coming almost directly from diaries and legal documents passed down over the years from a time of devil-worshipping and witch hysteria.
A newly-arrived family from England has been exiled for religious reasons and now live in the middle of nowhere, working even harder to find food and maintain their home. A secluded house with no one around, surrounded by the dark forest immediately adds horror to the film. Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) plays peek-a-boo with her new baby brother outside of the house as we see Thomasin through the baby’s eyes. Point of view shifts as we then identify with the sister looking down. We return to the baby’s perspective only to witness Thomasin’s shock, the baby is gone. The girl screams, approaches the woods but stops. Here begins the visually and auditorily disturbing journey Eggers allows to unfold before our eyes. Into the woods we go as a lurking eeriness persists.
We’re in a dark room in the woods, only an old, naked, long-haired witch can be seen. Perfect framing of characters and depth of field shots draw viewers in closer, tense with suspense. One scene involves Thomasin and Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), her younger brother set out into the forest to look for food without telling their parents. Something seems to be in the air as the family dog takes off to chase down a rabbit, while the horse Thomasin sits atop kicks up in fear, knocking the girl onto the ground out cold. Caleb is in a trance-like hold, staring into the dark abyss of where the witch lives. We watch in awe, fearing someone or something frightening to jump into the frame. Lo and behold, a rather voluptuous young woman creeps out of the shadows, a red cloak draped over her showing dress. The boy approaches, seduced, the woman gently kisses him on the lips. We hold our breaths…a wrinkly old arm shoots out and grabs the boy’s head. The scene ends.
These specific moments of a stringy, metallic-sounding score are what enables The Witch to make its way under a viewer’s skin. It is not in the dialogue but in the sound, the pace and the shining-like devil children that make this film unforgettably eerie. Robert Eggers shows horror movie goers that a femme fatale is not necessary and a ridiculous plotline of ongoing predictability should no longer be the standard. If you ask me, horror has now entered a new stage of artistry. And Eggers has got it down.