The Witch is the latest film to be granted the dubious distinction of being poorly advertised to the wider world. With adverts setting it up as the most recent jump scare heavy mainstream horror, the reality is nothing of the sort. While undeniably creepy, this film lacks the scares that said trailer seems to promise, which, by the way, is a good thing.
Set in New England during the 17th century, it follows a Puritanical family as they are kicked out of their plantation and forced to set up life on the edge of some particularly freaky woods. When their youngest child is taken by a witch, paranoia sets in, and this God-fearing family begins to fall apart at the seams.
That setting is particularly important for The Witch and is chillingly realised. These people live in the middle of nowhere, and the woods that sit on the edge of their land provide a haunting figure in the background of every scene. You will find your eyes combing the shadows at the edge of them, trying to figure out if that is a person you see or just your imagination.
The atmosphere this creates replaces the jump scares, with the film instead focusing on a repressive and creeping atmosphere. The whole thing becomes almost unpleasant to watch, as you see a family turn on each other through the paranoia caused by a mixture of their belief system and whatever may be lurking in the background.
Central to that family strife is eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) when her Mother (Kate Dickie) begins to believe that she is the source of their troubles and turns against her and her husband (Ralph Ineson). All three play their roles brilliantly, but it is Taylor-Joy who is the real revelation. Thomasin is at a time in her life where she doesn’t know where she stands, on the edge of puberty, she is trying to figure out her place in the world and is our entry into this film. Thomasin gets across that complex nature, that feeling of confusion and longing for something more and it is a role that everyone can relate to.
Even she is outclassed by the acting of Charlie the Goat, however, playing the malevolent figure of Black Philip. If there were an Oscar for Best Supporting Goat, you’ve got to assume he’d be a shoe-in as he appears to assert influence over their youngest twin children and work them round to the side of darkness.
The Witch is not going to make you jump out of your skin or scream for help. It is a slow burner, a horror film which focuses on atmosphere and tension rather than quick frights, which of course is not for everyone, but if that is your bag, then this could go down as one of the year’s great films. It worms its way into your head and as of now apparently has no intention of leaving. It sets up a world where the supernatural is real, but where the people in it are so obsessed with the idea of it, that you can’t be sure whether they aren’t destroying themselves as quickly as the witches do.