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The Witch, the new slow burn of a movie that was a hit at Sundance and is taking the art houses by storm, is a film where I feel I’m on the sidewalk looking through a window at a party that I can’t join. It just didn’t work for me.
There are several reasons as to why, but the simplest reason is that it didn’t remotely scare me and that slow burn of a build up never made me remotely tense or nervous. I found the story as a whole to be slow and tedious. Yes, there are a few jump and go boo moments, but in the end, even those didn’t do much to get my fears going.
So, basically, if the movie scared you, then you’ll probably like the movie. If you didn’t, as I didn’t, then you won’t.
There are other reasons I never could get myself involved in the story. I think the first reason is that I suspect the movie begins in the middle of Act I. The first act felt under dramatized and did little to really get me involved in the characters and their situation.
The film begins with a Puritan family appearing before a church council. They are being accused of some sort of heresy and are banished, though apparently only from church. I mean, when Roger Williams was thrown out, he was really thrown out; so much so that he had to make his way to a distant location, whereupon he eventually helped found the state of Rhode Island. Here, the family just returns to their farm, still making occasional excursions into town. Wow, how merciless people who come down on heretics can be.
Exactly what this disagreement on doctrine is is never revealed. But whatever it is, the difference in beliefs do little but make the family just as dower and depressing as the church they were thrown out of. All involved would probably benefit from a good dose of Zoloft. Even though they were excommunicated, they still pretty much hang on to the religious belief that they are all sinners in the hands of an angry God, as Jonathan Edwards put it.
Basically what I’m saying here is that I never cared remotely what happened to these people.
Certainly writer/director Robert Eggers and his designers have done a rather amazing job of recreating the period. Everything is designed with the style of photographic realism and shot in beautiful black and white.
But Eggers has also brought this realism to the dialog as well. It is based on diaries and other documents of the time, so the veracity of it probably can’t be challenged. But the more realistic the characters talked, the less believable what they said became. Though the actors in many ways are very good, I never felt that they handled the period dialog naturally enough. There was something about it all that the performers couldn’t quite get right; it never played trippingly off the tongue.
The plot also felt more than a bit arbitrary to me. For some reason, after all their time for being on their farm, they suddenly start experiencing dire things (like a bad harvest and, perhaps the cleverest turn in the story, the sudden disappearance of a baby). If the cause for their woe and the reason why supernatural events are now plaguing them are due to their being excommunicated, you’d never know it by the screenplay; the connection was not, well, well connected.
And it took forever for a bunch of murky things of little impact to happen. I love slow burn movies, but for me this never generated any heat.
With Anya Taylor-Joy as the oldest daughter, Thomasin; Ralph Ineson as the father, William; Kate Dickie as the mother Katherine; and Harvey Scrimshaw as the oldest son Caleb. Ellie Granger and Lucas Dawson play the youngest offspring, twins who act like they are auditioning for The Lord of the Flies or A Cold Wind in August.
Jarin Blaschke is responsible for the haunting monochromatic look of the film.