wed 19/02/2020

DVD: The Witch | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: The Witch

DVD: The Witch

An ambitious, sparely told tale of 17th-century American terror

Don't go in the woods: Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) gets lost in early America

New England in the 17th century is the primordial soup of American horror: where Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hettie Prynne received her Scarlet Letter, the vampire nest in Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s Lot was seeded, and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible tested original, hysterical sins. There is a small, parallel English strand including some of its cinema’s most affecting horrors, too – Matthew Hopkins’ Civil War rampage in Witchfinder General, A Field in England, and The Blood On Satan’s Claw’s slightly later, sexually raw tale of a possessed village. The Witch, Robert Eggers’ debut as writer-director, daringly explored 1630 terrors for a 2016 multiplex audience, and loses little power on DVD.

Eggers gives the briefest glimpse of a wider, proto-America, only 10 years after the Mayflower’s arrival, as William (Ralph Ineson) is banished from a walled town where demi-armoured English soldiers and Indians stroll. The image is shot with documentary immediacy. William and his young family are, though, soon beset by more subjective dread in the forest they’re exiled to the edge of. This eerie, liminal space – the heart of a darkness perhaps transported to America – is home to a witch, who can snatch a child in the blink of an eye.

Eggers’ perspective on his Puritan family is more sympathetic than earlier films. William is a relatively weak, kind, devout man, driven into the wilderness by his particular brand of Christianity. Damnation is a true terror to his family. The witch finds him. And if she didn’t, the sight of his young son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) bravely running with a rifle that’s much too big for him shows the forest would still be a nightmarish trial. The witch’s familiars – a hare, a goat – are elements of fearsome nature. Her dismantling of the family, teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) especially, is a more familiar story. But the cruel world the witch shares with isolated pilgrims far from English homes they’ll never see again intrigues Eggers, more than his brief, haunting moments of horror.   

The forest's eerie, liminal space is home to a witch, who can snatch a child in the blink of an eye


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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