Or: Stone the Crows!
This week features a film we’ve both already seen but I feel like we come back to it a lot, much like The Babadook in discussion and certainly in comparison to other movies. Since it’s free for all month and there’s no way I could complete with last week’s joyful pick, I figured this might be fun to review. Or perhaps fun isn’t quite the term. Try harrowing, haunting, ominous AF.
The Witch (2015)
A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
New England in the 1630s and William (Ralph Ineson) and his clan have just been booted from their home due to differences in religious opinion. Basically, William interprets The New Testament one way and every one else another. The fam – William and his wife Katherine, son Caleb, daughter Thomasin and the twins Mercy and Jonas – relocate far from the plantation and build their own basic farm in the woods.
Shortly after their arrival, Katherine (Kate Dickie) gives birth to her fifth child, baby Samuel. Shit hits the fan when Thomasin (the really v. good Anya Taylor-Joy) is playing peekaboo on the outskirts of the woods with the baby when he disappears. Off camera we, the viewer, learn quickly of Samuel’s fate (it ain’t a good scene, man) but the family do not and there are varied opinions as to what has become of Samuel – witch or wolf being the two options.
Katherine is devastated and spends her days crying in bed as any mother would. William, sick of nothing growing in the farm, determines than in order to survive, the men will have to learn to catch their own food. He takes his son Caleb hunting and while alone he tells him that he sold Katherine’s silver cup to buy hunting supplies. Sadly the hunt does not yield much and family life is even more tense.
All the while the twins spend an abnormal amount of time goading the family goat, Black Phillip (voice by Daniel Chaudhry). We’ll come back to him later.
So the finger of blame is pointing squarely at Thomasin. When Katherine finds her cup missing she insinuates that Thomasin has something to do with its disappearance too. Sure, everyone blame the baby-loser. William and Katherine argue into the night about sending her away to serve another family.
Side note: Let’s be real this isn’t a cheery yarn.
Tired of the misery and wanting to do something to help his family, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) sneaks out into the darkness to try his hand at hunting again. Thomasin follows him and demands to go along or she’ll grass him up to their dad. While in the woods the pair are separated (Thomasin is knocked unconscious), the dog is ripped apart by unknown forces and Caleb has an encounter with a seductive witch. Once again Thomasin is forced to return home without a sibling and the family is fraught.
When Caleb turns up later, delirious and naked, Katherine is convinced that witchcraft is at play (you think?) and prays over Caleb. Unfortunately, our boy is not long for this world and shuffles off, not before throwing up an apple and presenting a beautifully serene monologue. In the melee, the twins get upset because they can’t remember the words to the Lord’s Prayer and accuse Thomasin of being a witch. In retaliation, she tells her parents about their incessant chatter with Black Phillip.
To shut them all up William locks the remaining children in the goat pen with the big man himself. Later they witness an old witch drinking the blood from another goat.
I shan’t spoil the ending but there are more fatalities, some fantastic Black Phillip dialogue and a distressing breast-feeding scene which I can feel deep inside my core when I close my eyes. Let’s just say by the end all the paranoia and the ominousness pays off.
Witches. Witches everywhere.
I couldn’t love this more. It’s such a great example of a powerful modern horror and it ticks all my personal boxes. Everything about the way it looks, from the blue-tinged filter to the stark landscape works in its favour, while the tall trees framing the farm land add to the feeling of being forever watched. I actually feel cold and uncomfortable watching this – and I like it.
All the performances are spot on but Anya is incredible here, all doe-eyed and on the cusp of womanhood. The conclusion is deeply satisfying and stunning, I think. It makes me want to shed my undergarments and join a coven.
In terms of theme, The Witch explores the concept of persecution against women (but of course), female empowerment, black magique, puberty, familial ties – so many topics and its open to your own interpretation too. So make of it what you will but check it out please, I love.