By Murphy Kenefick, Columnist
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Please don’t watch the trailer.
The most effective use of fear that a filmmaker can utilize is the feeling of uncertainty. Conjuring some sense of off-screen terror and using the audience’s imagination is far more terrifying than anything the director can put on screen. A sound, a glance, a rumbling, all underscored with a trembling, high-strung violin is more compelling than any kind of jump scare that is more common in popular horror cinema.
“The Witch” utilizes this feeling of uncertainty in a horrifying fashion, playing upon the fears of the 1600s, the woods and any sort of folklore that accompanies it. The slow burn begins when a family of seven is banished from a Puritan community and sent to live in isolation at the edge of the woods. The protagonist is the oldest daughter, saddled with looking after the younger children along with keeping up with the religious expectations of the family. This provides an obvious contrast with whatever lurks beyond the trees. In order to avoid spoilers, I will not say exactly what occurs, but bizarre, unexplainable events begin to happen to this family, steadily raising tension and questions. The lack of any kind of resolution along with the religious overtones provides a gripping conflict that transcends the characters and plays into the folklore narrative of the things that were not a part of the physical world.
I tend to avoid this genre because it is generally ultraviolent and repetitive, but in recent years there have been specific examples that have gone against this trend, such as “Under the Skin” and “It Follows.” Both of these implement stunning cinematography and powerful performances, revolving around startling concepts that are both familiar and foreign simultaneously. “The Witch” follows this trend, retelling folklore that seems familiar, but the narrative is reinvigorated with chilling visuals and sound editing that truly gets into my blood and creates genuine fear that can’t typically be found in the theaters.
It’s not surprising that “The Witch” premiered at Sundance, where it won Best Director (Robert Eggers) in 2015. Most of the craftsmanship is fairly simple yet incredibly powerful and precise, capturing specific moments of confusion and horror. Whether it be the father angrily splitting wood, the mother chastising the children with only a look or the menace that sneaks into the animals that surround the village, Eggers uses the time period in such a bleak fashion that it made me thank the Puritan God that I was born in this century.
BONUS POINTS: Sound design, the final sequence and, of course, Black Philip.
NEGATIVE POINTS: The audience surrounding me who clearly was not into it.